In its inaugural year, the program will provide 10 women of color with a two-year, personalized experience that includes approximately $3,500 to cover the cost of the four sections of the Landscape Architectural Registration Exam (LARE), along with exam preparation courses, resources, and mentorship from a licensed landscape architect.
According to U.S. Census and ASLA data, approximately 18.5 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, while only 6 percent of ASLA members do. 13.4 percent of the U.S. population identifies as African American, but only 2.14 percent of ASLA members do. 1.3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Natives, but only 0.45 percent of ASLA members do. And 6.3 percent of the U.S. population identifies as Asian and Pacific Islander while 13.5 percent of ASLA members do, but ASLA doesn’t separate Asian from Asian American and Pacific Islander members in its data.
A recent report by The Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing found that among highly complex, technical fields, such as landscape architecture, a license narrows the gender-driven wage gap by about a third and the race-driven wage gap by about half.
The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Board (CLARB)’s Council Record data shows that women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are highly underrepresented among the profession: Only 7 percent of landscape architects are non-white and only 30 percent of landscape architects are women.
“The statistics are telling, and it is important we make major strides to ensure the makeup of the profession closely mirrors the communities they serve,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “We need to address these gaps, and women of color achieving licensure is a part of the solution.”
“As stated in ASLA’s Racial Equity Plan of Action released in 2021, we are committed to fostering equity and inclusion within the profession There is much more work to be done, but we believe this program is an important step towards meeting those goals,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen.
ASLA believes licensure is vital to protecting public health, safety, and welfare. Licensure also signifies a level of professional competency and can lead to greater career and business success. However, there can be significant barriers to licensure. Aside from the cost of a landscape architecture education, candidates must also pass the rigorous, four-part LARE.
The ASLA Women of Color Licensure Advancement Program was initiated with a generous $100,000 donation by former ASLA President Wendy Miller, FASLA, and James Barefoot; Marq Truscott, FASLA; Rachel Ragatz Truscott, ASLA; and CLARB.
The new book Wild Design: Nature’s Architects by science writer and essayist Kimberly Ridley is a slim, charming look at some of the most interesting results of billions of years of evolution — the beautiful and always highly functional forms of plants, fungi, insects, spiders, avians, and mammals. Through more than 70 well-curated antique illustrations, along with thoughtful and concise essays, Ridley tells stories of the wondrous diversity of natural forms.
As Janine Benyus, founder of Biomimicry 3.8 and the Biomimicry Institute, explained in an ASLA interview, “life has been on the planet for 3.8 billion years, and, in that time, it has learned what works and what lasts here on Earth. That’s a long line of good ideas and unprecedented longevity. What doesn’t work is recalled (made extinct) and what does work is optimized with each generation. Natural selection prizes those things that work best in place as well as those that create conditions conducive to life.”
These kind of ideas clearly inspire Ridley, who urges the reader to “notice nature’s creative genius.” She worries that “staring at our phone and computer screens, we isolate ourselves from the wild world, cutting ourselves off from a powerful source of inspiration, delight, and wonder.”
But beyond the power of nature to improve our spirit and sense of well-being, we must also pay closer attention to nature for even more important reasons. With the world becoming more fixated on technology, and development diminishing more wild places, the inspirations provided by nature can sometime feel less immediate and resonant. This not only impacts our well-being and ability to be optimistic, but also our ability to be passionate stewards and grow the next generations of Earth protectors.
As we face worsening biodiversity and climate crises, both a result of a fundamental disconnect with nature, Ridley argues we must take a “deeper look at the wild inventiveness all around us” because “it may be key to our survival.”
On the positive side: the specific needs of trees, plants, insects, birds, and animals have shaped the design of gardens and landscapes for thousands of years and inspired countless paths, features, and spaces. Landscape architects and designers have been leveraging and mimicking nature’s designs before there were even terms like biomimicry and biophilic and ecological design.
And in the past few decades, with the growth of the biophilic and ecological design movements, there has perhaps been an even more intentional effort to maximize the benefits of nature and create cities, landscapes, and buildings that function more like ingenious living systems.
Wild Design will encourage any designer who looks to nature for ideas and systems thinking and cares about the continuation of natural systems and, in turn, humanity.
Ridley examines the microscopic wonders created by diatoms, minute algae, and radiolarians, marine zooplankton. She explains that these tiny life forms “use their cell membranes as molds to create mesh frames of hardened silica–structures that are remarkably durable.” It easy to see these forms inspiring new kinds of efficient protective materials.
In a section on “fabulous fungi,” Ridley explains that fungi are in a separate kingdom from plants, with more than 200,000 known species and an estimated 5 million more that scientists have yet to catalog. They provide two critical functions: they act as “demolition crews,” breaking down dead plant material, which is vital to the health of any forest; and also form networks — a prime example being mycorrhizal fungi, which help trees and plants absorb nutrients and water and communicate risks. This latter kind of fungi forms the basis of a subterranean “world wood web” scientists have only recently begun to understand. Ridley argues that “terrestrial life wouldn’t exist if not for these bizarre and ancient beings.” Landscape architects can design with fungi to improve soil and ecological health and better sequester carbon. We can also learn from fungi how to design resilient, adaptable networks and systems.
“Plants are the design wizards of the natural world,” Ridley writes. Seemingly like magic, they use sunlight to transform carbon dioxide and water into sugars they live on while generating the oxygen the rest of us rely on. Scientists have organized the approximately 400,000 species of plants into four groups: mosses and liverworts, ferns, coniferns, and flowering plants. As Ridley describes, trees have inspired everything from Greek and Roman columns to the vaulted ceilings of medieval churches. Throughout history, landscape architects and architects have been drawn to designing with trees and plants and incorporating woods, one of the most sustainable, carbon-sequestering materials.
In a section on arthropod engineers — spiders and insects — Ridley argues that “despite their miniscule brains,” these beings have “solved some of the most complicated problems in architecture and engineering” — and offer a model of efficient and sustainable uses of resources. As Darwin noted, a honeycomb created by bees is “absolutely perfect in economizing wax and labor.” And centuries before, in 36 BC, Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro proposed what came to be known as “honeycomb conjecture,” arguing that “dividing a flat plane into equal hexagons is the most efficient way to pack the most surface area into the smallest perimeter.” Exploring the amazing structures designed by bees, along with spiders, termites, and ants, we can learn from some of the original master designers how to build resilient, pre-programmed structures using natural materials.
Additional chapters explore the varied and surprising nests birds design, and the elaborate tunnels and dens formed by prairie dogs and beavers. Birds can inspire all designers practicing in our era of increasingly limited resources: they constantly re-use what they find, crafting only what they need. For example, an adaptive Carolina wren will either create a dome-like nest in open cavities 3-6 feet off the ground or simply design a nest out of abandoned “clothespin bags, plant pots, boots, bags, and even the pocket of a jacket left outside.”
Landslide 2022 Brings Under-threat Olmsted Landscapes into Focus — 02/15/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Today, more than 200 Olmsted-designed landscapes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many are designated as National Historic Landmarks. And although the Olmsted name brings with it a high level of prestige and recognition it does not, as noted by TCLF president and CEO Charles A. Birnbaum, guarantee any sort of invincibility.”
Olmsted’s Legacy, Bringing People Together Through Landscape Architecture — 02/11/22, The Pilot
“‘Olmsted saw the capability of landscape design to have beneficial impacts, whether it is physical health or mental health. He viewed landscape design as a way to bring people together,’ said Dede Petri, president and CEO of the National Association for Olmsted Parks.”
The Untold Story of Super Bowl LVI Stadium in Los Angeles— 02/07/22, Architectural Digest
“The landscape design will allow residents year-round access to the areas outside the stadium itself, introducing new shared spaces in a city that lacks equitable access to public space. ‘This is a destination for the community,’ says [Mia] Lehrer, [founder of Studio-MLA]. ‘It’s not just a place to see a football game or to go shopping; it’s an environment for people to come and be with community.'”
NYC’s Park Avenue Medians Are Getting a Face-Lift— 02/07/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“New York City’s Department of Transportation plans to hire a landscape architect to reinvent the malls that divide Park Avenue along the 11 blocks from Grand Central to East 57th Street. Councilmember Keith Powers, who represents the area, says he expects the request for proposals to be sent out in the coming months. The renovations will proceed in stages and likely won’t be completed for at least 20 years.”
Nestled between the runways of Los Angeles International Airport, the bold SoFi Stadium by landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA and architecture firm HKS sets a new standard for sports arenas, breaking the conventional “suburban fortress” model by opening up the arena to the sky, air, and nature, and blurring the lines between stadium, botanical garden, and public park. The new home of both the Rams and Chargers NFL teams will be highlighted on a national stage during Super Bowl LVI, but it is also a place to visit even if you have no interest in football.
“It’s all about how a stadium becomes part of a landscape and the landscape becomes part of the stadium,” said Mia Lehrer, FASLA, founder and president of Studio-MLA, which recently won the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. “We’re honored to help imagine this extensive park and public district alongside the people of Inglewood, validating how sports stadiums inherently democratize space and bring people together.”
Kush Parekh, ASLA, associate principal at Studio-MLA, said this $5 billion mega-project is truly transformational because it’s rooted in the vision of the Inglewood community, which is predominantly Black and Latinx.
The nearly 300-acre site was once the Hollywood Park racetrack. When the city decided to redevelop the site as an urban infill project and the developers Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and Wilson Meany took on the project, Studio-MLA, HKS, and Hart Howerton began a process of community engagement as part of a planning process for a new Hollywood Park mixed-use district.
They discovered the racetrack had an artificial lake and green space at its center that the community appreciated and often used for events such as flower shows. When the community was asked what they hoped for in a new development, they said “a lake and green space,” Parekh explained.
The oceans of parking lots that had once surrounded the racetrack were also one of the few open spaces available to the community, which is among the most underserved in terms of access to green space, trees, and shade. “Parents would take their kids there to teach them to ride bikes,” Parekh said. The barren, uninviting parking lots had also become a walking and jogging destination, simply because there were so few other options.
Working with the community, Studio-MLA began focusing on how to insert a lake into the site. “We wanted to bring the lake back, but it couldn’t just be recreational; it needed to be performative.” So Lehrer and team had an idea: a new lake could store water to irrigate a new botanical, sustainable landscape. But given how intermittent rainfall is in Southern California, they realized multiple water sources were needed for both the long, dry season, and the short, inundating ones.
Studio-MLA discovered the site had access to recycled water from the West Basin Municipal Water District facility that could be used to partially fill the lake in the dry season. First, the water would need to be chemically treated, so the team designed a custom filtration process with PACE Engineering. To fine-tune these systems, the design and engineering teams built a temporary laboratory on site.
In the wet season, when flash floods are a risk, the lake would be designed to handle all the stormwater run-off from the stadium, parking lots, and the 5-million square feet of surrounding retail, residential, and commercial buildings planned as part of Hollywood Park.
Their case to the developer was either pay a high amount to pipe stormwater to the Pacific Ocean and also pay hefty additional stormwater fees, or “mitigate stormwater on site and create a public amenity,” Parekh said. “The lake checked a lot of boxes. It was a win-win situation.” The development team was also “firmly committed to a sustainable approach.”
Given the site’s proximity to the Los Angeles airport, the stadium needed to be buried 100 feet into the ground to avoid the flight paths of planes. Digging down left huge amounts of soil that Studio-MLA then leveraged to subtly lift up the edges of the entire site and regrade to divert stormwater through a series of drains and pipes that daylight at the constructed lake. A planned constructed arroyo (river) that will connect with another park with sports facilities at the east end of the site will also eventually steer run-off to the lake.
To treat both the recycled water and stormwater run-off, the constructed 6-acre lake also includes layers of natural and mechanical solutions. A series of wetlands filter out contaminants, then a filtration and pump system handle the rest of the purification needed to reuse 26 million gallons of water annually for irrigation.
With a water source in place, there was now a way to substantially green the indoor-outdoor SoFi stadium. Landscape was key to making the experience more “human,” Parekh said. Instead of feeling like “you are going down into a hole in the ground,” Studio-MLA designed inviting landscape canyons that provide an entry point to the arena stands. “The canyons allow for air, light, and views of the landscape from within the stadium.”
For Lehrer, Parekh, and the Studio-MLA team, this decade-long project has been a labor of love. “This project shows what landscape architecture can do for sports. Our goal was to make everyone completely comfortable there on a human level,” Parekh said.
He added that the integrated architecture and landscape architecture was the result of “collaboration from the beginning” between Studio-MLA and HKS, along with PACE, Fluidity Design Consultants, civil engineer David Evans and Associates, and contractors Turner and AECOM Hunt. Studio-MLA brought prior experience designing the landscapes of Dodger and Banc of California Stadiums, also in Los Angeles, but the entire design team agreed on the need to “change the paradigm of the stadium model” by further mixing public plazas and parks with the stadium structure.
The 28-acre sloping canopy of the stadium also covers two other spaces — the new YouTube Theater, a flexible event space that can hold 7,000, and the American Airlines Plaza, a covered yet airy space that can hold 15,000. The architecture and landscape architecture worked together to ensure this place won’t just be used for big NFL games and then sit empty but offers a variety of place for year-round events.
The 25 acres of open green space alone will also serve as a community draw. The public park and diverse landscape features 5,000 newly-planted native and climate-appropriate trees from Southern California and similar Mediterranean biomes, including Palm, Sycamore, and Evergreen trees. Plants that would do well in California’s desert, upper and low montane, and riparian ecosystems are found in various zones of the stadium landscape and adjacent park, which includes the first segment of the planned arroyo.
The design team crafted fully accessible plazas with organic planter forms, along with ribbon fences that guide visitors during big game days. “We tried to incorporate the gates and fences in a beautiful, sculptural way,” Parekh said.
This project is just the first phase of many for the Hollywood Park district. Studio-MLA laid the groundwork for natural infrastructure, with a promenade drawing visitors in from the west, and the arroyo trail that can lead to another park on the east. The firm has already designed the landscape for the adjacent NFL offices and retail district. Other developers may also take on sections of the development.
For Inglewood, the new SoFi stadium and Hollywood Park redevelopment plan will change the narrative for an underserved community that was recently on the verge of bankruptcy. “Inglewood was once known as the city of champions,” Parekh said, but losing the Lakers NBA team to the Crypto.com Arena in downtown Los Angeles in 1999 was a blow. As part of the Super Bowl halftime show, Los Angeles hip-hop legends Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and Dr. Dre will join Eminem and Mary J. Blige in shining a light on Inglewood, which has its own rich hip-hop scene.
A new Inglewood stop on the $2 billion, 8.5-mile-long LAX-Crenshaw light rail line expected to open later this year will also lead to further investment and concerns. Lehrer and her team have partnered with the historically Black community of Crenshaw to “celebrate Black Los Angeles” and its history through a new linear park connected to the light rail line.
As the impacts of the climate crisis become more widespread, landscape architects are increasingly planning and designing landscapes with carbon in mind. At the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, landscape architects offered new approaches and tools for sequestering both operational and embodied greenhouse emissions in their projects and reaching a climate positive state faster.
According to Pamela Conrad, ASLA, founder of Climate Positive Design and principal at CMG Landscape Architecture in San Francisco, approximately 75 percent of all emissions are from the urban built environment, with 40 percent from buildings and 35 percent from transportation and landscapes.
To encourage landscape architects to sequester more carbon than they emit through their projects, Conrad founded Climate Positive Design two years ago. The original goal of the effort was to achieve one gigaton of carbon sequestration across all landscape architecture projects by 2050; now that goal has moved up to 2040.
“We need to keep warming to 1.5°C. We can only add 300 gigatons of additional carbon to the atmosphere and need to work within this remaining carbon budget. We need to reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030 and hit zero by 2040.”
Over the past year, Conrad, along with ASLA, the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), and Architecture 2030 have encouraged design professionals and global policymakers to strive to achieve these targets. Conrad and ASLA partnered with IFLA to develop a Climate Action Commitment, which represents the voice of 70,000 landscape architecture professionals worldwide across 77 national member organizations of IFLA. All organizations also signed on to Architecture 2030’s 1.5°C COP26 Communiqué, which has the backing of more than one million planning and design professionals worldwide. “This represents a collective commitment,” Conrad said.
The importance of ramping up nature-based carbon sequestration is abundantly clear, but there hasn’t been enough progress. Today, “landscape architects are likely emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than they are sequestering,” Conrad said. “It’s time for radical change in the field of landscape architecture.”
Since its founding, the data in Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder app has only improved. Thousands of projects have been logged in 85 percent of countries. The tool has helped landscape architects find ways to reduce space for carbon-intensive hardscapes and increase carbon-sequestering trees, shrubs, and grasses. This is critical because the data shows that 75 percent of carbon in landscape projects is embodied in materials like concrete and metal furnishings, while 25 percent is driven by operations, caused by fossil fuel-powered lawn movers and leaf blowers, and fossil fuel-based fertilizers.
According to her calculations, when completed, the projects already logged will result in 1.6 million new trees planted, which is equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. “The tool has helped landscape architects increase planting by 18 percent.”
For Conrad, climate-smart design isn’t just about doing good for the planet; it’s also personal. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has also experienced the impacts of climate change, like many millions across the world. “I have experienced flooding, devastating fires to the point that I couldn’t go outside, power outages, and, eventually, displacement.”
Chris Ng-Hardy, ASLA, a senior associate landscape architect with Sasaki, a multidisciplinary planning, landscape architecture, and architecture firm, said the contemporary study of ecology and conservation often feels like “we are documenting the end of the world.” But landscape architecture offers a way to shift that mindset. “Design is an optimistic act; it’s productive.”
Sasaki often works at the urban scale, focusing on large and long-range planning projects. They found early site planning decisions can dramatically impact future carbon emissions. “We realized we need to consider carbon from the beginning, before the project even starts.”
Ng-Hardy expects that in the near future developers will increasingly use the landscape portion of large urban projects to offset carbon from the development of buildings and infrastructure.
But in order to accomplish this, developers and designers need solid data on both embodied and operational emissions to guide early planning, and, unfortunately, there are major gaps. “Measuring embodied carbon is about 10-15 years behind the curve in terms of measuring operational carbon.”
To tackle these obstacles, a team at Sasaki used a year-long internal research grant to explore lifecycle assessments and environmental product declarations, developing the Carbon Conscience App in the process. The tool is meant to help with the preliminary planning decisions that determine a project’s long-range carbon footprint. “We are stepping up to help clients integrate this into their work.”
The assumptions underlying the carbon calculations in the tool were developed from a comprehensive academic and professional literature review covering buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes. Ng-Hardy said, for example, data shows that of dry biomass, “about half of the weight is carbon.” The tool could help policymakers get a sense of how much carbon is being sequestered naturally across the U.S.
The result of all of the research led to a few conclusions for landscape architects: “don’t destroy ecosystems; add wetlands, prairies, and forests; minimize hardscapes and concrete; and reduce the use of plastics and metals.” Ng-Hardy added that “not all metals are the same — recycled metals are better,” but it’s best to use wood materials wherever possible. And overall, “less is more — everything has impact.”
The conversation then turned to natural carbon sequestration in plants and soil communities. Deanna Lynn, Assoc. ASLA, landscape designer with Wild Land Workshop, a landscape architecture firm that focuses on “endemic landscapes for outdoor living, biodiversity, and water conservation,” said “soil carbon sequestration is hard to study.” But generally, the “more life there is in ecosystems, the more carbon is stored in soils.”
Soil ecology is complicated. For example, Lynn said “soil microbial communities are much more important than soil structures” in sequestering carbon. This speaks to the “chemical nature of the organic matter in soils.”
Soils are also “complex, adaptive systems.” When designing for carbon sequestration, it’s important to understand soils as “nested within larger and smaller systems” that change over time. The goal should be to support “self-organizing systems of soil life.”
She argued that when trying to understand the overall carbon sequestered in a landscape, it’s important not to just estimate the carbon in trees with a lot of biomass, like a sequoia, but to examine the whole tree, plant, and soil system. The diversity of plants, including their root range, type, and depth, are also meaningful.
Lynn has found that more carbon can be stored naturally in ecosystems and soils if species diversity is increased. Landscape architects can introduce more woody plants; warm season grasses; deciduous trees, which are denser; and nitrogen-fixing plants, which enable the productivity of the entire plant communities. Overall, native plants, which have deeper roots, are “more productive and resilient” and therefore will store more carbon over time.
In designing new forested landscapes, Lynn advised referring to a nearby ecosystem and mimicking their arrangements of trees and plants, along with planting an understory of plants that tolerate leaf litter. In all projects, leaf litter should be kept, along with tree logs, which help build carbon in the soil.
In the Q&A, the speakers noted that a “cultural shift” is needed to embrace the “messier” look of ecological design, which has greater carbon and biodiversity benefits. Ng-Hardy said that “the emissions from all the lawns in America are baffling. Lawns are the biggest cash crop in this country. But we need to encourage native plant gardens, a different aesthetic, as our new cultural norm and standard.” Then, landscape architects can increasingly reduce carbon and support biodiversity.
This 16-acre Atlanta Park Was Built to Flood — 01/28/22, Fast Company Design
“[Atlanta] didn’t just want to replace low-lying flooded homes with a low-lying flooded park. They worked with HDR on a design that would turn the empty acreage into a thriving public space that could also serve as an engineered drain, safely taking in the water during heavy storms and gradually releasing it underground. The park is designed to flood—and protect the surrounding neighborhood.”
Transportation Dept. Outlines Plan to Address Rising Traffic Deaths — 01/27/22, The New York Times
“‘Fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists have been increasing faster than roadway fatalities overall in the past decade, which has a chilling effect on climate-friendly transportation options such as walking, biking or taking public transportation,” the report said. ‘To unlock the climate benefits of those modes, we need road and street systems that feel safe and are safe for all road users.'”
5 U.S. Cities Where Bike Commuting Is Booming — 01/26/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new report from the League of American Bicyclists traces how long-term planning and infrastructure investments allowed some cities to grow their share of bicycle commuters.”