The New Landscape Declaration: Perspective and Critique (Part 1)

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New Landscape Declaration / LAF

After hearing 23 declarations on the first day of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)‘s New Landscape Declaration: Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, panels of landscape architects on day two critiqued the declarations, delved into some of the important facets of landscape architecture — aesthetics, ecology, society, and innovation — and offered visions for what needs to be achieved over the next 50 years.

Aesthetics: Connect Through Creativity

The panel, which was led by Adam Greenspan, ASLA, a member of the LAF board of directors, essentially worried that the importance of “physical design, which engages culture and nature,” may be lost in the total quest for sustainability and restoring ecosystems. Their response was designed landscapes must be beautiful if we expect communities to love them and take care of them far into the future.

Claude Cormier, ASLA, principal of Claude Cormier + Associates, said aesthetics has always played a central role in landscape architecture. Frederick Law Olmsted was “focused on nature as an aesthetic experience.” For Mikyoung Kim, FASLA, Mikyoung Kim Design, it’s less about aesthetics, a term she dislikes, and more about the “process of creativity, which is methodical and conscious, and about tapping intuition, which occurs on a subconscious level.” But she cautioned that if landscape architects were “too creative, they risk missing the pressing global issues.”

In the context of the overall summit, this seemed like a shocking statement: “We can’t save the world, but we can address some major issues through design in contemporary ways,” argued Chris Reed, FASLA, founder of Stoss. “Design can move people’s hearts to create action.” Ken Smith, FASLA, principal of Ken Smith Workshop, largely concurred, arguing that “aesthetics matter. The qualitative aspects — the spaces, programs, forms — provide meaning to humans. Landscapes can delight, confound, confuse, excite us.” He pointed to the art world, where the “new is often ugly,” arguing that perhaps landscape architects also need to be pushing the boundaries on concepts of beauty. Meanwhile, Maria Goula, associate professor at Cornell University, asked: “do we need new aesthetics or perhaps multiple aesthetics?”

East River Waterfront Dog Run, NYC / Ken Smith Workshop
East River Waterfront Dog Run, NYC / Ken Smith Workshop

Ecology: Make Ecological Design Mainstream

“People will look at us and this time and say we just didn’t get it,” said Kristina Hill, Affiliate ASLA, professor at University of California, Berkeley, referring to the many dangers facing our ecosystems and planet. Hill, who moderated the ecology panel, relayed how San Francisco’s city government momentarily fell into crisis when a senior official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated they expected a 6-9 feet sea level rise by 2050. While it was just one official’s personal opinion, San Francisco’s panicked response showed that “stronger sense of urgency is needed” in the push to adapt our ecosystems to the coming environmental changes. “Unprecedented instability is coming. The role of landscape architects is to think out the options and try not to panic.”

Ellen Neises, ASLA, an adjunct professor at University of Pennsylvania, said in this age of crisis, we need to move away from “sustainability propaganda in which ‘optimism sells.'” Instead, “designers need to provoke more.” Jose Alminana, FASLA, a principal at Andropogon Associates and major force behind the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), rued that ecology is “still not mainstream in our profession.” He called for landscape architecture educators to “embed scientific rigor in the educational process,” and landscape architects to do the same in their design process. “Beauty and performance aren’t mutually exclusive. All forms of life matter.”

Shoemaker Green, University of Pennsylvania campus by Andropogon Associates / Tillet Lighting Design
Shoemaker Green, University of Pennsylvania campus by Andropogon Associates / Tillet Lighting Design

Brett Milligan, ASLA, University of California, Davis, argued that “if we do things to the landscape, they sometimes respond in some ways we dislike. We need a new, relational way to interact with the landscape.” Julie Bargmann, founding principal, D.I.R.T. Studio, urged caution against becoming too all-knowing about nature, arguing that “ecological models are slippery.” And Antje Stokman, International ASLA, professor at the University of Stuttgart, called for creating methods to encourage “direct community engagement with the environment,” particularly in environments characterized by heavy migration among both human and other species.

Society: Diversify and Co-design with Communities 

Deb Guenther, FASLA, partner at Mithun, led a discussion that focused on the twinned goals of increasing diversity in the landscape architecture profession and better reaching under-served communities. Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, principal at DesignJones, pointed to ASLA’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity through its annual diversity summit, which brings together emerging African American and Latino landscape architects, but also called it like she saw it: “if we truly want diversity, we need to focus less on statistics and instead recognize and praise diversity and lift it up.” She pointed to the range of African American landscape architects doing important work, often under the radar. Jeffrey Hou, ASLA, professor at University of Washington, added that “landscape architects need to diversify their ranks or risk becoming a profession of colonialists,” coming in as white experts into communities of color.

Diane Jones Allen, ASLA / Landscape Architecture Magazine
Diane Jones Allen, ASLA / Landscape Architecture Magazine

“Landscape architecture can diversify in the next decade or two,” because just look at the huge gains that have been made to bring in more women over the past 50 years, argued Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, a professor at MIT. She explained her multiple decades of experience helping African American communities in Philadelphia unearth their own landscapes, explaining how “long-term commitments are needed to build trust.” She wondered whether landscape architecture programs, with their semester-long field projects, can truly engage and learn from communities in which they dip for a short time. Jones Allen concurred, arguing that “we have to be careful how we get students into these communities, but it’s important to get them out of their comfort zone of the studio and face real people with real issues. Students are learning.” Allison Hirsch, ASLA, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, was less positive, arguing that “landscape architects tend to avoid issues of inclusion; there are few community-oriented design practices.”

For Spirn and others, the solution is more equitable design processes rooted in co-design and a participatory process with stakeholders. The goal should be capacity building among communities. “Make the design process transparent, not opaque,” argued Spirn.

Innovation: Move Beyond the Discipline

Adrian McGregor, Internatonal ASLA, a founder of McGregor Coxall in Australia, envisions a “new economy that trades in carbon, which will raise underlying values of ecosystems,” eventually resulting in a new “NASDAQ for the environment.” The growing importance of sequestering carbon in the environment will “put landscape architects at the table.”

Andrea Hansen, founder of Fluxscape, wants landscape architects to “move beyond the discipline, embrace holistic thinking,” and embrace open data. But she added that increasing innovation doesn’t necessarily mean “increasing complexity; we must keep it simple when we communicate to expand our reach.” To realize this reach beyond the discipline, Marcel Wilson, ASLA, founder of Bionic, called for more experimentation and risks, even if they result in failures. “We must incentivize innovation; landscape architects have become too reactive.”

Liat Margolis, ASLA, director of the Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab), University of Toronto, appears to be doing what Wilson called and Hansen have called for, as she works to create the next generation of green roof technologies. “We need to discover different material composites, bridge performance gaps, and exceed current green design benchmarks through experimental design.”

Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab) / Sandy Nicholson, University of Toronto Magazine
Green Roof Innovation Testing Laboratory (GRIT Lab) / Sandy Nicholson, University of Toronto Magazine

And Karen M’Closley, ASLA, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, similarly called for a “new set of sustainable design indicators, set-up pre-occupancy and post-occupancy surveys, and capture results in real-time.” Margolis finally asked: “where is the landscape architecture field’s think tank?”

The New Landscape Declaration: Perspective and Critique (Part 2)

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New Landscape Declaration / LAF

The second day of the Landscape Architecture Foundation‘s New Landscape Declaration:  Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future offered critical responses to the 23 declarations delivered on the first day of the event and looked ahead to the next 50 years. Afternoon sessions were divided into five panels, each representing a different aspect of landscape architecture: academic practice, private practice, public practice, capacity building organizations, and emerging voices. Each panelist gave a short talk before engaging in a group discussion, addressing audience-sourced questions, and offering perspectives on what needs to be achieved over the next 50 years:

Academic practice: Maintain the value of the “long view”

“Academics combine teaching, scholarship, and service” while “taking the long view: looking back, then to now, and forward,” argued University of Illinois professor Elen Deming, ASLA, moderator of the first panel. The panel largely resisted responding to the more-urgent cries for action from the first days’ declarations, with Jacky Bowring, professor at Lincoln University, cautioning, “there is power and danger in the language we use.”

The academicians saw the future of landscape as both cultural art and applied science. While Anu Mathur, ASLA, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, championed “design as a field of inquiry” in which “design tools and techniques are our academic science,” Susan Herrington, ASLA, professor at the University of British Columbia, reminded the largely-professional audience that design schools “do not train scientists,” citing long hours in the studio. Yet a question from the audience concerning the rising costs of education revealed that a lack of scientific rigor in landscape architectural research limits access to external funding that could help lower escalating costs.

Bradley Cantrell studio testing responsive hydrologic systems at the GSD / David J Klein
Bradley Cantrell studio testing responsive hydrologic systems at the GSD / David J Klein

Julia Czerniak, ASLA, professor at Syracuse University, spoke to the power of design writing and criticism in spreading ideas. Other panelists noted the academy’s global reach comes from the increasingly international students it recruits and where schools build partnerships.

Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, professor and chair of landscape architecture at Harvard University, delivered four points the panel saw as critical to the future of academic practice: 1) commit to frameworks of learning, 2) avoid binaries and ideologies, 3) encourage student thinking and action, 4) increase diversity and range of students.

Private practice: Lead through collaboration and deep expertise

The private practice panel was moderated by Laura Solano, ASLA, principal at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), who emphasized that practitioners deal with the challenges of not only serving clients and achieving design excellence, but most also “run profitable businesses, all without harming the earth.” In their contribution toward a new declaration, the practice panel called for firms to become increasingly adaptable and gain deeper expertise.

Joe Brown, FASLA, consulting advisor at AECOM, insisted that “practices must respond to students’ ambitious ideals.” He later added that larger firms can act as teaching institutions as well, helping students achieve their new ideas. Thomas Balsey, FASLA, founder of Thomas Balsley Associates, agreed that in private practice, “a commitment to growth and evolution” can come from being open to what students bring. Through internships and the induction of recent graduates, Balsley offered ”student-led seminars” as a bridge between the ideas of the academy and the constraints of contemporary practice. Kathryn Gustafson, FASLA, founding principal at Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, claimed “education in firms will be the biggest draw in future private practice.”

The panel addressed the importance of having both deep expertise and leadership skills as landscape architects manage complex, collaborative projects. Mark Johnson, FASLA, co-founder of Civitas, noted that being a leader isn’t just about being a “good generalist, but also an expert.” Balsley, who saw collaboration as the key for smaller firms to get big commissions, elaborated: “you need preparation and dedication to being an expert to be capable of collaborating.” Or as Gustafson put it, “to let landscape lead, you have to be the smartest person in the room;” but also be pro-active: “know your experts and demand what you need from them.”

Centennial park master plan, Tennessee / Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Centennial park master plan, Tennessee / Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Adding a more critical voice to the private practice panel was Keith Bowers, FASLA, founder and principal at BioHabitats. Noting he is often on the other side of these collaborations, providing ecological design services, Bowers re-asserted the importance of private landscape practices to lead by “turning around political and financial institutions.” He emphasized the importance of sticking to your environmental values and having “conviction, spirit, and humility in everything you do.”

Public practice: Change policy to achieve impact

Mia Lehrer, FASLA, president of Mia Lehrer + Associates, led the public practice panel, which advocated for their important role in “defending and expanding” landscape’s role, all the while “creating places of experience that stick with people throughout their lifetime.” Acknowledging the stigma of bureaucracy, Nette Compton, ASLA, senior director of ParkCentral and City Park Development at the Trust for Public Land, said to “young professionals: you can get a lot done at a young age;” her own rise in the New York City parks department being but one example.

Joking that landscape architects are a “shade-loving species,” Mark Focht, FASLA, former ASLA president and senior official in Philadelphia’s parks department, joined others on the panel in suggesting landscape architects must “push themselves out there” into positions of power and “demand design excellence for under-served communities.” This point was affirmed by Deborah Marton, executive director of New York Restoration Project, who noted that “private dollars rarely go into low-income places.”

Going one step further was Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director of landscape architecture for U.S. General Services Administration, who encouraged landscape architects to be “infiltrators and insurgents,” using policy as a mechanism to deliver action. Citing his involvement in the Obama administration’s efforts to restore pollinators to health, Gabriel thinks re-conceptualizing policy through ecosystem services “is where our greatest future and capacity lies.”

Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse sustainable landscape for pollinators / Hilltop Landscape architects
Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse sustainable landscape for pollinators / Rios Clementi Hale

Picking up on the Beth Meyer’s keynote speech and Martha Schwartz’s declaration from the first day of the LAF Summit, Edward Garza, CEO Zane Garway and former mayor of San Antonio, challenged landscape architects to “embrace the political world” and even to run for mayor.

Capacity organizations: Design a path to increased diversity

As demonstrated by the summit itself, capacity organizations like LAF play a crucial role in forging the future of landscape architecture. Having heard all the declarations and much of the audience and Q & A, the panel, which included representatives from the LAF, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation of Landscape Architecture (IFLA), Public Architecture, and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), acknowledged how important diversity is to the future of the profession. Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA, announced a multi-organizational effort entitled Mirroring the Nation, which is meant to attract and support more minorities to the profession, so that “our profession might better mirror the population it serves.”

The panel also called for landscape architects to have more impact on a global level. Leading the cause was Raquel Penalosa, ASLA, who is using her position as President of IFLA Americas, to “work globally in the service of localities. We must be humble and listen” closely to what communities want. And IFLA president Kathryn Moore said the world’s tens of thousands of landscape architects can have more impact by forming an “interdisciplinary vision” based in “common values,” particularly given the field is one of the fastest growing worldwide.

LAF President Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, and Somerville debated a bit on whether a “new narrative” was needed to achieve greater public awareness, with Deutsch calling for an entirely new set of messages, and Somerville arguing that “we are making progress with our current messages among some groups — like the older, wealthier, and better educated — but need to better reach diverse audiences. We need to get the messages out where they need to be.”

Emerging voices: Promote the next generation

With the help of Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, CEO of OLIN, the emerging voices panel assembled a group of recent LAF Olmsted scholars. An appropriate ending to a summit on “the future of landscape architecture,” these future leaders each wrote their own declarations, which they then presented to the 700-plus crowd.

Leading off was a 2015 University Olmsted scholar Joanna Karaman, Student ASLA. Now working as a landscape designer at OLIN, Karaman challenged landscape architects to “be honest about how we represent what we build.” Her work in time-based media (Karaman is also working on a film about and for the LAF Summit) seeks to bring power to the profession through the use of videos that can make more accessible the volatility and transformational potential of landscapes.

Following Karaman was Nina Chase, ASLA, senior project manager at Riverlife in Pittsburgh, who advocated for “capitalizing on the resurgence of fun” through short-term pop-up projects that can serve as prototypes and catalyze public participation. Embracing the mantra of “test before you invest,” Chase suggested that developing projects incrementally is both good for creating fun, but also for building resilience to climate change.

Scott Irvine, a 2015 University Olmsted scholar from the University of Manitoba, delivered a message from the Canadian plains, cautioning that landscape architects should beware of “becoming overly urban,” and that too often now, “regionalism stops at the edge of the city itself.” Another caution was issued by Timothy Mollette-Parks, ASLA, associate principal at Mithun, who argued that “landscape can’t be formulaic, and we must not lose our dedication as designers.”

Wrapping up the panel was the 2016 National Olmsted scholar, Azzurra Cox, Student ASLA, a recent graduate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, who called for landscape architects to engage in what she calls “critical ethnography: design as a humanist, political, and narrative act.”

This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, 2016 master’s of landscape architecture graduate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

What Problem Would You Solve with $100 Million?

The MacArthur Foundation, creators of the “genius” grant, have just launched 100&Change, a competition for a single $100 million grant that can make “measurable progress towards solving a significant problem.” The MacArthur Foundation seeks a bold proposal with a charitable purpose focused on any critical issue facing people, places, or the environment. Proposals must be “meaningful, verifiable, durable, and feasible.” The goal is to identify issues that are solvable.

The MacArthur Foundation expects to receive applications mostly focused on domestic American issues, but they welcome international proposals as well.

Cecilia Conrad, MacArthur’s managing director leading the competition, told The Washington Post that the grant competition is designed to inspire more creative problem solving. “We believe there are solutions to problems out there that $100 million might be able to make significant headway or unlock resources, and we want to hear what those are. By focusing on solutions, we can inspire people to focus on problems that can be solved, and we just have to roll up our sleeves and get to it.”

Register your proposal by September 2, 2016. According to the foundation, semi-finalists will be announced in December and finalists in the summer of 2017. The foundation’s board of directors will pick the winner.

In other competition news: AECOM, the Van Alen Institute, and 100 Resilient Cities have announced the latest Urban SOS, an annual student competition. Fair Share will explore the principles of the “sharing economy,” and how it can be applied to “support more equitable access to resources, improve the built environment, and enrich the quality of life of urban residents.” Fair Share is looking for multidisciplinary teams of students “to create a new generation of digital innovations combined with physical design strategies to improve how cities provide housing, open space, transportation, jobs, care, and many other services and resources.” Register by June 14 and submit proposals by September 12, 2016. Winners will receive $15,000 and up to $25,000 in services to support the implementation of the winning concept.

University Landscapes Teach, Too

University of Virginia campus / Perfect Soccer Recruit
University of Virginia campus / Perfect Soccer Recruit

“Landscapes have long been essential to the transfer of knowledge,” said Daniel Bluestone, a professor of history, art, and architecture at Boston University at Dumbarton Oaks’ symposium on landscape and the academy. In ancient Greece, “Hippocrates taught the art of medicine under a tree. And in China, there has been a tradition of educational landscapes, including the book garden.” Fast forward to the founding of some early colleges and universities in the United States, and we see the beginning of a “distinctly American type of educational landscape,” with gardens, arboreta, and designed views. Early American university campuses were designed to “train the eye to outside beauty,” create a long-lasting appreciation for nature, and build important values like self-reliance. Today, some of those American universities are now at the forefront of education about sustainability and resilience. “University landscapes can create a profound connection with the ecology of our world. We need students who understand climate change. A university can make these issues manifest in the landscape.”

The symposium covered vast ground; here are highlights from some of the campus landscapes discussed:

The University of Virginia: This model American campus was laid out by president Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s. He envisioned a central mall surrounded by buildings, with “spaces for learning intended to promote the stewardship of knowledge, an academical village,” explained Bluestone. The idea was to give people “space to develop a sense of where they were” — in this case, the Virginia landscape, which was central to the original campus and became a sort of living learning lab, in today’s lingo, “where students could reflect on their place in the greater ecological scheme of things.” It was also a productive landscape: students would pass by kitchen gardens and know where their food came from. (The image below is of Jefferson’s kitchen garden at Monticello, but it perhaps gives an idea of what those would have looked like).

Vegetable garden at Monticello / UVA Green Dining
Vegetable garden at Monticello / UVA Green Dining

Harvard University: Joseph Claghorn, a fellow at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, gave a sweeping tour of Harvard Yard through the ages, arguing that the shift away from the grand Elm tree monoculture of Harvard Yard to a more diverse, resilient tree canopy, under the guidance of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is mirrored in shift away from being a white, elitist college to a more diverse one. (However, one could also argue that only elite institutions like Harvard can afford to be so resilient). Claghorn traces the evolution of Harvard Yard over the years, explaining that there had been three waves of Elm deaths before the move diverse planting scheme was created, which still features the stunning Elm roof but also includes blooming yellow woods and many other species.

Harvard Yard / Harvard Magazine
Harvard Yard / Harvard Magazine

Harvard, the oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S., has largely had an organic evolution over the past 375 years. In the beginning, there was no masterplan for the campus. By the 1720s, the college had settled on an “open quadrangle, not cloistered like Oxford.” Claghorn says this distinction is important: In the United Kingdom, the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge had roots in monasteries — they were isolated, exclusive places for learning — but Harvard, in its early years at least, was open and directly linked with the Cambridge Commons, which “reflected the mutual dependence between college and town.” By the early 1800s, however, the college had become a university, with multiple schools, and become “largely segregated from the neighboring working-class community.”

Original Harvard Yard / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Original Harvard Yard / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

The epitome of this segregation was the addition of a church on Harvard’s campus, which meant students no longer ventured into Cambridge to worship with their neighbors. Gates were added to further separate the campus. Those gates were later used to the defensive advantage of student protestors in the 1960s and 70s. In the past few decades, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates began to diversify the campus landscape, as the Elms were infected by Dutch Elm disease. Today, some subsidiary spaces even have apple trees — a far cry from the totality of the Elms. Diversity and resilience is now increasingly depicted through the campus landscape.

U.S. Military Academy at West Point: John Dean Davis, who is studying for his Ph.D at Harvard, delved into the landscape of the oldest continual military installation in the country. The early campus experience for the male cadets was “drudgery punctuated by moments enjoying nature.” The sprawling campus in upstate New York allowed for “roaming in the Hudson River valley.” In the early 1900s, the Olmsted brothers created a masterplan that featured an “active plane,” a vast central lawn, and the preservation of forested watersheds. Today, the active plane where marching drills were once held now contains sports field and a helipad. And instead of free immersions in the wilderness of the military reservation, cadets are bound in mediated REI-like experiences in controlled natural settings. Enjoyment of wild nature has been tamed in favor of safety and discipline.

West point campus / West Point.org
West point campus / West Point.org

Vassar College: In contrast with West Point, Vassar, the first endowed women’s college in the U.S., incorporated landscape exploration into the actual curriculum, said Karen Van Lengen, professor of architecture, University of Virginia. The campus in Poughkeepsie, New York, was separated from the town. Its ambitious landscape plan evolved incrementally over time, but was crafted to have “an effect on the students.” Some of the first women ecologists in the country led classes featuring the campus landscape. Each class at Vassar also contributed to the development of the landscape by planting trees. “Tree day was an important ceremony.” It grew to become a “nocturnal, cult-like event, with dances and poetry.” Commencements even involve constructed, ceremonial views of trees. Today, Vassar remains a “leading institution for environmental studies and uses its campus to teach about ecology and conservation.”

Vassar College Commencement / Webner House blog
Vassar College Commencement / Webner House blog

John Beardsley, director of the landscape program at Dumbarton Oaks, remarked how the landscape of Vassar was designed to encourage independent thinking, while West Point’s emphasized the collective, despite moments of freedom in nature.

Duke University: Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, and Linda Jewell, FASLA, a just-retired professor from the University of California Berkeley, explained the history of this picturesque campus in Durham, North Carolina, and the unique role it plays as both public garden and educational institution. From the beginning, Duke had “Ivy envy,” explained Hough. That resulted in massive investments by the Duke family, one of the wealthiest in the south, in creating a campus that “looked like it was carved out of pristine nature.” Today, the campus is wrestling with how to integrate more contemporary landscape architecture into the historic campus, and manage a $1 billion building campaign that will result in new projects by West 8, Reed Hilderbrand, and Stephen Stimson Associates.

Last year, the university’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens received over 300,000 visitors, explained Jewell. Considered the highlight of the campus, the gardens feature a designed pond — that is beautiful but also manages stormwater — and “exuberant flora.” In 2007, the gardens got the first full time director, who was put in “take it to the next level.” While the gardens clearly attract lots of visitors, they are also designed for the students. WiFi is now accessible to enable “passive study.” And then there’s the trickier student interactions to manage. Hough explained that “it has become a social ritual to have sex in the gardens before you graduate.” He laughed, “you can’t take the students out of the campus.”

Sarah P. Duke Gardens / Panorama Point
Sarah P. Duke Gardens / Panorama Point

Hough explained how students’ deep concern about sustainability led Duke to LEED-certify all their buildings in the early 00s and resulted in a shift away from manicured gardens to more ecological ones. A severe drought in 2007 also led Duke to reduce its dependence on the municipal water system, with a 12-acre pond that Warren Byrd, FASLA, Nelson Byrd Woltz, unearthed and turned into a campus nature park, adding some 40,000 native plants. The new ecological landscape, which just opened last year, saves the university 100 million gallons in water use a year. Hough said this new landscape is an example of how Duke is “blurring the lines between infrastructure, student life, ecology, and engineering” while still making places that are “as beautiful as possible.”

Duke Pond / Mark Hough
Duke Pond / Mark Hough

Jewell said in the past five years, she has witnessed a huge increase in awareness about the role campus landscapes can play in sustainability. A simple question like, “do we have too much grass?” has “opened the door” to much broader conversations.

How to Teach Landscape Architecture to High School Students

Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green

“I wish I had this opportunity when I was your age to meet all these amazing designers,” said Caroline Baumann, director of the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, at the start of the High School Design Summit in Washington, D.C., where 200 D.C. public high school students got to learn from national design award winners from all disciplines. Out of the whole group, about 25 students were put into small groups of four and asked to try out landscape architecture, practicing both design thinking and collaboration. Students were given a variety of prototyping materials, including straws, paper, and wire, to create models based on challenges. Students were asked to either create a healthy outdoor park or a space that would benefit their neighborhood in just 45 minutes. As they raced to create their prototypes, national design award winning-landscape architects hovered, critiqued, and offered guidance.

As the landscape architects interacted with the students, I asked them what they thought about the state of high school design education. Margie Ruddick, ASLA, author of Wild by Design, who won the national design award in 2013, said “landscape architecture, and design in general, needs to be better integrated into the curricula. Design is a part of life and it needs to be better included in our educational system.” She said with the lack of opportunities to explore the world of design, “too many kids don’t even know they are designers.” She was one of those kids: as a high school student she was “completely bored working in 2D; I wanted to be in 3D!” But there were few opportunities for her to express herself using models.

Shane Coen, FASLA, Coen + Partners, who won the design award in 2015, said U.S. undergraduate enrollment in landscape architecture is falling, in large part because there is so little awareness of the profession in high schools. He believes the mission of every landscape architect should be go to a high school and show students what it’s about. Coen said “when I go to talk to high school students, they don’t even know what landscape architecture is and what a powerful, broad field it is. That’s a serious issue.”

And Mary Margaret Jones, FASLA, senior principal at Hargreaves Associates, which just won this year’s award, said “high school education for landscape architecture is non-existent. The biggest concern is these students never make it to a university program. We just aren’t getting the numbers we need. I’ve spoken to people at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), and they see a crisis coming. Employers are also having a hard time hiring and they are searching all the time.” Jones also said landscape architecture must become more diverse. She added it was actually First Lady Michelle Obama’s idea to bring together the D.C. public school students and the design winners — “I couldn’t agree more with this approach.”

For some additional perspective, Halima Johnson, who runs teen programs at the Cooper Hewitt, said: “high school students in general don’t know landscape architecture is a thing. But landscape architecture isn’t the only design field with this problem. They also don’t understand interaction design or product design.” She said it’s important to keep it simple and “lead them to it.” For example, a good design challenge is asking them to design a park or outdoor space “before actually explaining to them this is a discipline.”

Many of the students got into it. Watching the student groups busy constructing their models, Ruddick commented that “some groups are on fire and some are stuck.” With some groups, “there is a clear leader who catalyzes the design process, and then the others who are deferential.” She said in the real world, it’s not much different: “there always has to be one design lead, even in a collaborative process. Otherwise, you can get lost and get design by committee.” The design leader “has to have the ability to let the process play out and not get freaked out but channel things without steamrolling.” Jones, also helping the teams, largely concurred: “there were some students who just dove in. They were natural design leaders.” But she said “someone started and then that gave others the ability to start, too.”

And both smiled when they saw some teams were struggling with competing design visions. Jones joked: “wow, that never happens in the real world.”

One team, seen in the image up top, ended up creating a set of cascading pools. As Big Daddy Sal, one student, explained, “there’s a kiddie pool, an intermediate pool, with a slide, and then an advanced pool that can only be reached by a 100-foot ladder. You can just chill up there. There’s also a hot tub for older people.”

Deshala, a local high school student, said her team created “a cool-kids spot, with a pool and an area where they can just sit on the grass.” Her team purposefully designed a space that would provide shade.

Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green

One team created a giant hammock, covered in solar panels that power a spinning umbrella upon which multimedia is projected. They were also focused on providing shade. “There’s a special area just for pets, too.”

Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green

Marcus, another student, explained that their team created an outdoor coffee shop, with palm trees.

Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green

And, lastly, one team created a “Bad Girls Club playhouse, a sanctuary for anyone who is a girl to express themselves emotionally and physically.” The team went outside the toolkit provided the Cooper Hewitt, using the light from a cell phone to illuminate the model.

Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green
Cooper Hewitt Teen Design Summit / Jared Green

As David Skorton, president of the Smithsonian, said later in the day, “design is an optimistic endeavor.” And perhaps for some of these students, the day made them more optimistic that they too can use design to solve our problems. Perhaps some will even consider a new path.

The Case for Precision in Landscape Architecture

Image1_CaracasPark
Renderings of Concurso La Carlota competition entry / Luis Callejas

According to Anita Berrizbeitia, ASLA, chair of the landscape architecture department at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), the question of whether to pursue a more regimented, process-based approach or use a more open-ended design model has occupied the field of landscape architecture for the past three decades. In a lecture at GSD, Berrizbeitia said landscape architects must contend with a range of dynamic forces in every landscape — from changing seasons, hydrologic cycles, and plant life-cycles, to more anthropogenic processes, such as climate change, economic volatility, and rapid urbanization. “One of the challenges with process is it’s difficult to calibrate. But with the fully open, come both good and bad. How do we design with a more precise notion of openness?”

In the face of destructive processes, such as rising sea levels or increasing socio-economic inequality, Berrizbeitia sees a problem with completely open-ended design interventions that indiscriminately let processes unfold, unobstructed and uncontested. She proposed precision as the primary approach that will enable designers to better contend with existing processes and create a better future.

Berrizbeitia noted that the word precision is most commonly associated with computation, architecture, and certain art forms, but rarely landscape architecture. She gave examples of a number of projects that use precision in an exemplary way.

One example is a competition proposal by Berrizbeitia and colleagues for a park: Concurso La Carlota in Caracas, Venezuela (see image above). The park was to be located in a former air force base, which had for years acted like a void in the city, prohibiting access to the everyday citizens of Caracas. Thus, the design became all about access, literally, by bringing people to an area that was once inaccessible, and, metaphorically, by providing “access to the political processes of a decaying democracy.”

A single, precise topographical gesture in the form of a massive earthwork was designed to serve various purposes. First, it would help reverse the hydrological processes that cause flooding in the area. Next, the earthwork would selectively keep an 8-lane highway out of view while also bringing in pedestrians from all the surrounding communities. The monumental earthwork would also create an elevated promenade with views of surrounding valley, creating a new view that would have been impossible before.

Another model of precision is a park in Santiago Chile called Quinta Normal, designed by Teodoro Fernandez and Danilo Martic, a renovation of a garden originally used for acclimatization of European plant species to Chile. The designers were tasked with creating public space for a densely-populated and impoverished neighborhood while preserving the beautiful old trees. The landscape architects resolved this by laminating the ground with a series of wood and stone surfaces, none exceeding one foot in height. These precisely-designed surfaces create space for new and unprecedented forms of public interactions in this under-served neighborhood. They allow public access to an important historical and cultural resource — the existing trees — while simultaneously protecting them from harm.

Children frolic in the fountain at Quinta Normal in Santiago / buenatela.wordpress.com
Children frolic in the fountain at Quinta Normal in Santiago / buenatela.wordpress.com

The lecture ended with a response by Michel Desvigne, a French landscape architect, who, through his three-decade-long career, exemplifies for Berrizbeitia a practitioner able to achieve a coherent ecological, social, and aesthetic vision through the implementation of precise interventions. Desvigne called Berrizbeitia’s lecture “a key moment” for landscape architecture. The scale of Devigne’s projects are so grand that they require new institutional frameworks between clients and designers. For example, one of Desvigne’s current projects, a master plan of Bordeaux, has a projected completion date of 2034. Desvigne emphasized that without precision, projects of this scale wouldn’t be possible.

Right Bank of Bordeaux succession diagrams / Scanned from Intermediate Natures: The Landscapes of Michel Desvigne
Right Bank of Bordeaux succession diagrams / Scanned from Intermediate Natures: The Landscapes of Michel Desvigne

“The precisely-designed landscape negotiates. Its forms reveal rather than obscure; its high-definition communicates, draws in, describes, and enables.” Berrizbeitia’s lecture was a heartening reminder that landscape architects have the power to give form to processes in the face of constantly-shifting conditions. With precision, designers can create landscapes that result in positive and lasting social and environmental change.

This guest post is by Chella Strong, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

What’s Next: Career Paths for Emerging Landscape Architects

Work and Days Symposium Participants / Katie Black and Colin Curley
Work and Days Symposium Participants / Katie Black and Colin Curley

This time of year design students everywhere are asking themselves, “What’s next?” Whether weighing summer options or searching for a job post-graduation, the closing of the spring semester is  a critical moment filled with the excitement and apprehension of choosing the right path. While students can draw on many traditional sources for advice, a recent symposium at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design sought to offer a deeper forum, not just about careers, but rather on “what the role of the designer is, can, and should be in the twenty-first century.”

The Work & Days symposium mined the broader field of landscape architecture, assembling 17 panelists who represent the “realistic breadth of jobs available to emerging landscape designers.” Career paths range from start-ups to large firms, publishing, conservation, interdisciplinary work, industrial and structural engineering, socially-oriented practice, and academia. The idea for the event originated with master’s of landscape architecture students Katie Black and Colin Curley. The duo “recognized the increasing agency and expansion of landscape and its allied professions,” and yet, a lack of honest discussion about the highs and lows of these varying career paths.

Although each 10-minute presentation had its own distinct story, many themes resonated across speakers. One common theme throughout the day was the pros and cons of the straight versus the meandering path. Ellen Nieses, an adjunct landscape architecture professor at PennDesign, kicked off the presentations listing the 30-plus jobs she had held before coming to landscape architecture. As an academic and practitioner, Nieses drew on her diverse experiences outside of the world of landscape “to meet people designers don’t usually meet and go places designers don’t always go,” expanding the reach of the profession as she seeks to “see big stuff happen.” However, she admits her approach has a “fruition problem,” in that big paradigm-shifting projects are slow, hard to complete, and thus result in little built work.

With 16 years of practice at Olin, Richard Roark, ASLA, offered students a different but complementary perspective, showing how a landscape architect can evolve at one firm. His more linear career in landscape architecture had allowed room for him to grow from a young student protester to a partner at Olin leading community-based projects such as the Philadelphia Rail Park and Detroit’s Eastern Market. Roark sees these projects as “political dialogue,” requiring “an act of collaborative intelligence.”

For careers outside of academia and private practice, many speakers emphasized the valuable managerial skills and inquisitive instincts learned through design education. Nette Compton stressed the importance of effective “design translation” in her ascension to the position of director of green infrastructure at the New York City parks department and her current role as the senior director of ParkCentral and city park development at The Trust for Public Land.

Regardless of their career choices, many presenters acknowledged and even celebrated the inevitable role of serendipity. For Aaron Kelley, Assoc. ASLA, an associate at James Corner Field Operations, this meant landing his first design job while in line for a coffee, but for others, this meant bouncing back from unexpected professional and personal challenges. Olin CEO Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, spoke candidly about these “bumps” in her own life, adding that “the disorienting dilemma is an important moment — use it wisely.”

While the symposium highlighted the range of possible professional pathways for students to consider, it also revealed that the question of “what next” is not just reserved students, but is an ongoing question for the discipline of landscape architecture.

This guest post is by Nate Wooten, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania School of Design.

Video Competition: The Landscapes of the Anthropocene

Anthroposcene video competition
Anthroposcene video competition

Many scientists argue we have already entered the age of the Anthropocene, an era in which humanity now determines the Earth’s geology, climate, and ecosystems. While a number of scientists and writers argue this new era marks the decline of nature, others say it may be the start of a future where humans deliberately and responsibly manage the planet’s natural assets. Regardless of where you stand on whether we can achieve a sustainable future in the Anthropocene, this epoch has produced unique landscapes. Anthroposcene, a new competition sponsored by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), National Museum of Australia, and LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, seeks the most compelling videos of the “profoundly frightening and yet somehow incredibly optimistic landscapes” of this new age.

The organizers write: “The philosophical and practical consequences couldn’t be greater: in short, nature is no longer that ever-providing thing ‘out there’, it is, for better or worse, something we are creating. The landscape of the Anthropocene is a cultural landscape and therefore a question of design.”

Videographers of any discipline are invited to submit but are limited to just three minutes to tell their story. Entrants can use their mobile phones to craft videos.

The video story that resonates the most will take home AUD $10,000 (USD $7,800). Six finalists will be selected by the jury, which includes University of Pennsylvania landscape architecture department chair Richard Weller, ASLA, for a public screening at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on October 27, 2016, with the winner selected right after.

The competition opens June 1 and closes August 1.

Another great opportunity for landscape architects and students: The National Park Service (NPS), the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), and Van Alen Institute are collaborating on Memorials for the Future, an ideas competition that seeks to “re-imagine how we think about, feel, and experience memorials.” The competition calls for landscape architects, artists, and social scientists to form teams and come up with new ways to “commemorate people and events that are more inclusive and flexible, and that enrich Washington D.C.’s landscape.” Entries will be narrowed down to three final teams, which will be asked to “develop site-specific designs for memorials in Washington, D.C., that are adaptive, ephemeral, virtual, event-focused, or interactive.” Submit concepts by May 4.

Apply Now: ASLA Summer Internship

ASLA 2015 General Design Honor Award. Perez Art Museum Miami: Resiliency by Design. ArquitectonicaGEO / Elaine Mills, ArquitectonicaGEO
ASLA 2015 General Design Honor Award. Perez Art Museum Miami: Resiliency by Design. ArquitectonicaGEO / Elaine Mills, ArquitectonicaGEO

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) seeks a full-time summer communications intern. The intern will research and create a new guide to resilient landscapes and write weekly posts on landscape architecture and related topics for The Dirt blog.

Responsibilities:

The intern will be expected to work full-time from June through August.

The intern will research and create a comprehensive guide to resilient landscape planning and design.

The intern will also create original content for The Dirt.

The intern will attend ASLA’s annual diversity summit weekend and write a report on the proceedings.

The intern will also have the opportunity to attend educational and networking events at the National Building Museum, Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks, and other museums and think tanks in Washington, D.C. Other communications projects may come up as well.

Requirements:

Current enrollment in a Master’s program in landscape architecture.

Excellent writing skills. The intern must be able to write clearly for a general audience.

Excellent photographic composition and editing skills.

Proven research skills and ability to quickly evaluate the quality and relevance of many different types of Web resources.

Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to interact graciously with busy staff members and outside experts.

Working knowledge of Photoshop, Google Maps, and Microsoft Office suite.

How to Apply:

Please send cover letter, CV, two writing samples (no more than 2 pages each) to aklages@asla.org by end of day, Friday, April 15. Please add “Summer Internship” in the e-mail subject line.

Phone interviews will be conducted with finalists the week of April 18 and selection will be made the following week.

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

ASLA offers a flexible work schedule but the intern must be at ASLA’s national headquarters, which is conveniently located in downtown Washington, D.C., one block north of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station on the Red, Yellow, and Green Lines. Learn more about ASLA’s green roof.

DesignIntelligence 2016 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings

DesignIntelligence
DesignIntelligence

DesignIntelligence recently announced its 2016 landscape architecture graduate and undergraduate program rankings. For the second year in a row, Louisiana State University (LSU) was deemed the best undergraduate landscape architecture program. And for the 12th continuous year, Harvard University retained its dominance as the best graduate program, in the annual survey conducted by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council.

Detailed rankings are available in the 16th edition of America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools, which assesses program rankings and education trends in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, and industrial design.

Respondents from nearly 1,420 “professional practice” organizations answered questions about how well prepared graduates are from different undergraduate and graduate programs. The number of respondents is essentially the same as last year.

Satisfaction with landscape architecture graduates among employers increased slightly from last year. Some 73 percent said they “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the state of landscape architecture education in the U.S., up from 71 percent in 2015, but down from 74 percent in 2014 and 80 percent in 2013.

Employers still think landscape architecture students lack basic knowledge for many aspects of their job. A minority thought that landscape architecture students had “more than adequate” or “adequate” knowledge of building, facility, or equipment life cycles or procurement processes, while a majority thought they had “more than adequate” or “adequate” knowledge of the environmental impact of materials and processes, biology, and biodiversity. Employers overwhelmingly said that students’ attitudes and personality were the number-one factor as they entered the workplace, followed by their portfolio and work experience.

This year, the top five emerging concerns by practitioners are:

Maintaining Design Quality (55 percent)
Sustainability / Climate Change (51 percent)
Integrated Design (41 percent)
Speed of Technological Change (38 percent)
Retaining Quality Staff (32 percent)

The set of concerns is virtually unchanged from last year, except retaining quality staff is now a top concern.

DesignIntelligence asks us to only list the top five schools for each program. To see the top ten rankings for each category, go to DesignIntelligence’s web site, and, to see the top 15, purchase the report.

Bachelor of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1) Louisiana State University
2) Pennsylvania State University
3) Cornell University
4) University of Georgia
4) Texas A&M University

Master of Landscape Architecture Degree Rankings:

1) Harvard University
2) University of Pennsylvania
3) Louisiana State University
4) Cornell University
5) University of Virginia

An additional deans and chairs survey asked leaders of 40 landscape architecture academic programs about the issues they find significant. According to 82 percent of the professors surveyed, their biggest concern is climate change and sustainability, while another 51 percent said urbanization and 45 percent said maintaining design quality.

Among the biggest changes to curricula in the last 5 years: some 55 percent thought it was “more emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration and integrated practice,” while 51 percent saw an increased focus on sustainable design.

For the fifth year, DesignIntelligence surveyed landscape architecture students to gauge their satisfaction with the programs covered. This year, more than 432 students were surveyed, up 16 percent from last year. On average, just 58 percent thought their program was “excellent.” The greatest number of students thought their program was excellent at the University of Pennsylvania, followed by those at the Kansas State University and Virginia Tech. Just 59 percent of graduates plan on working in private practice when they graduate; 13 percent remain undecided. Graduating landscape architects can expect to make around $52,000 in their first jobs.

To see the full responses from professors and students, purchase the report.

Check out our archive of 2015-2009 rankings.