Landscape Architects Announce Call for Presentations for 2017 Annual Meeting

ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting / ASLA
ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting / ASLA

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has released its call for presentations for the 2017 Annual Meeting and EXPO, which will take place October 20-23, 2017 in Los Angeles. More than 6,000 landscape architects and allied professionals are expected to attend.

The meeting will feature a diverse spectrum of industry experts speaking on a wide range of subjects, from sustainable design and best practices to new materials and technologies.

More than 130 education sessions and field sessions will be presented during the meeting, providing attendees with the opportunity to earn up to 21 professional development hours under the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System™ (LA CES™).

Many of the sessions will also qualify for continuing education credit with the Green Building Certification Institute (toward LEED AP credential maintenance), the American Institute of Architects, the American Institute of Certified Planners, and other allied professional organizations and state registration boards.

Education session speakers selected from this process will receive a full complimentary registration to the ASLA 2017 Annual Meeting and may also be eligible for reimbursement for one night’s hotel stay at an official ASLA hotel (an estimated $750 value). Landscape architecture professionals wishing to present at the New Orleans meeting need to be active members of ASLA. Allied professionals are encouraged to both submit presentations and speak but are not required to be members of the Society.

The deadline for education session proposals is February 1, 2017. Submit your session proposal today.

The Story of Two Landscape Architects: Friendship and Collaboration

William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter
William Johnson, FASLA, Jim Richards, FASLA, and Peter Walker, FASLA at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting / NC ASLA Twitter

How does it happen that two men from different backgrounds become not only fast friends but life-long collaborators? In the case of William Johnson, FASLA, a now-retired professor at University of Michigan, and Peter Walker, FASLA, founder of PWP Landscape Architecture, it started on the first day of their master’s of landscape architecture studies at Harvard Graduate School of Design, when they noticed each other driving the same car.

In a delightful and warm session at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans moderated by James Richards, FASLA, Townscape, Johnson and Walker recalled their youth, friendship, and growth into two of the profession’s best-known practitioners and mentors.

Walker grew up in San Francisco and was influenced early by the Bay Area School and Thomas Church. He also worked for Lawrence Halprin his senior year at the University of California Berkeley. He was on the verge of leaving landscape architecture for publishing when he was convinced by Stanley White that “landscape architecture was as much of a cultural enterprise as books.” He followed White to the University of Illinois to study. There, Walker’s path crossed with Hideo Sasaki who said, “come to Harvard,” so he did.

Meanwhile, Johnson grew up in the Midwest in Michigan and was deeply influenced by the two years he spent living on a farm in high school. As a city kid on a farm, he learned “an advanced degree in land thinking,” paying close attention to the wind, water, and weather. He went to Michigan State University (MSU) and joined the military. During a visit to MSU, Sasaki took note of his work and said, “you should go to graduate school.” After two years of service, he showed up at Sasaki’s university office.

Richards asked their first impressions each other:

Walker recalled, “Bill was drawing all the time, he used it as a method of communication, and as a thinking tool.”

Johnson said, “Pete name dropped and was impressive, and taught me, ‘you gotta have an idea. An idea is essential to get somewhere.’”

The mentorship of Sasaki was instrumental in bringing them together. He convinced them landscape architecture was “growing beyond the back yard,” as Walker said. And so they set out to create an office that could handle the new complexity of the profession. They learned scale should never be a problem: “if you can solve the problem of a garden, you can solve an Eastern Seaboard master plan,” said Johnson.

After their time collaborating at Harvard and with Sasaki, they went in different directions. Johnson went back to the Midwest to found his firm, JJR, and teach at the University of Michigan. He would eventually become the dean of the school of natural resources, a job he took only after discussing it with Walker.

Walker would return to California to open a field office for his work with Sasaki. Over the years, he had various successful partnerships, but always left the door open for this old friend and colleague, Johnson. Eventually, the time was right, and they were able to join in partnership in 1992 with their firm Peter Walker William Johnson Partners.

Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station /
Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners
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Skyforest Plaza at Saitama-Shintoshin Station / Peter Walker William Johnson Partners

Johnson and Walker acknowledge and embrace the differences in their styles and approach to the discipline of landscape architecture. It those differences, as well as their deep respect for each other, that makes them work so well together. Over their long careers, they continued to refine their collaboration.

As Johnson put it, his “large-scale planning thinking combined” with Walker’s “inclination to build it,” made them great partners.

Walker agreed and continued, “It is the differences among us – even between the various aspects of the profession – that make us interesting.”

Landscape architects must work towards a holistic gathering. The expansive work of landscape architecture must be done with a deep sense of purpose. As Johnson put it, “we work in the arena between people and the earth.”

Looking ahead, the mentorship of young landscape architects – both as teachers and through summer mentorship programs – would also become a large part of how both Johnson and Walker would make a contribution.

How to Measure the Benefits of a Landscape

Uptown Normal Circle and Streetscape / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Uptown Normal Circle and Streetscape / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

“We can’t achieve sustainability without considering the landscape. Performance happens there,” argued Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, president of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at GreenBuild in Los Angeles. By performance, Deutsch means just that — achieving concrete, measurable goals through sustainable and resilient landscape design: capturing stormwater, raising property prices, reducing the urban heat island effect, or improving biodiversity.

Deutsch complained that too many landscape architects still offer a laundry list of sustainable features when they discuss their work instead of focusing on real benefits. “We need to move to talk of benefits. For example, we can say a landscape captures this percent of stormwater, sequesters these many pounds of carbon, or saved thousands in energy use.”

To achieve performance and then collect these kinds of numbers, more landscape architects need to “integrate measurable performance metrics into the front end of the design process.”

To promote this approach, the LAF has built up the robust Landscape Performance Series, which includes a fast fact library, with data pulled from various credible journals; a set of benefits calculators; and, lastly, an inventory of over 100 case studies, which offer comparative before and after images, benefits data, and, to be transparent, information on how that data was collected and measured. “We also include information on lessons learned — what didn’t work.”

Deutsch and her team spend upwards of six months with landscape architecture firms and clients to put together a case study. Developing metrics and collecting and synthesizing data is a time-consuming process. “Choosing the right metric is important.” Deutsch called for using “defensible metrics, not necessarily peer-reviewed or published.”

The case studies offer a range of environmental, social, and often economic benefits. For example, the client and design team for Uptown Normal’s Circle and Streetscape in Normal, Illinois, a highly successful new town square and traffic circle, found that “104 new trees planted on site sequester 10,790 pounds of carbon.” And also, they found that the new landscape “increased property values in the Uptown tax increment financing district by $1.5 million (or 9%) from 2009 to 2010, a 31 percent increase from 2004.”

In another case study, the client and design team for the General Service Administration (GSA)’s new Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. found the landscape’s set of terraced green roofs “retains up to 424,000 gallons of rainwater, which is equal to the 95th percentile storm event.” The site’s new social spaces are being used: “336 distinct individuals observed using the courtyard over a 6-hour period.”

But she admitted some of the data is preliminary at best. And it’s easy to conflate causation with correlation. For example, one could say that a new park reduced neighborhood crime by 50 percent if one looked at crime logs before the park was created and then after the park launched and found crime went down 50 percent. But that’s leaving out many other potential causal factors that perhaps weren’t well studied. The park could have come with additional security guards, or the police could have increased their patrols in the area during the construction process, or the buildings around the park could have been redeveloped as pricey condos. Deutsch said “misusing data is possible. But we have to start somewhere. And it’s important to always cite the specific context of the data,” rather than generalizing it.

In the coming decades, Deutsch thinks even better data will come. She sees every landscape architecture degree program teaching landscape performance as part of an integrated design process, and performance calculations included in licensing exams. “I see this approach integrated into practice and the standard procedure.”

To make the case study development process easier, LAF will release a guidebook in 2017.

USGBC Readies Major Push on SITES

University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore
University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been on a rating system shopping spree for the past year. In addition to purchasing the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)*, it has since incorporated ParkSmart, a new rating system for parking garages; PEER, which covers power stations; and, most recently, Envision, a tool for making civic infrastructure more sustainable, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). At GreenBuild in Los Angeles, representatives from USGBC and its certification arm, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), explained how their goal is to now identify all synergies across their expanded portfolio of 10 rating systems and then create “cross walks” that enable developers and designers to leverage credits across complex projects and rating systems. They want to streamline the process and reduce the cost and time in pursuing multiple certifications at once. A new online, data-based system called ARC, which will launch in December, is supposed to enable all of this.

In a session, Micah Silvey, director of certification at GBCI, said “with ARC, we can go broader and deeper. We can make integration happen.” But he admitted the next step, which is to align the rating systems’ real “intents and goals” will be a “harder,” more lengthy process. Already, USGBC and GBCI have identified 6 credits that can be shared between LEED v4 and SITES v2. But the mapping of synergies between all the other rating systems can be expected to take years.

Silvey made the case for adding SITES to USGBC’s portfolio of rating systems, arguing it will help raise the profile of landscape architects. “Landscape is no longer an afterthought. SITES can elevate a whole industry and profession,” bringing them to the table earlier on as part of an integrated design team. He also said it will increase the focus on landscape performance: “SITES is a tool to create a collaborative ecology to guide project teams and clients according to a set of performance-based goals.” Like LEED, SITES can also provide landscape project owners with “recognition, third-party verification, and accountability.”

To date, some 100 projects are now exploring certification with SITES v2, and 40 have registered. Two projects have achieved certification: The first out of the gate was the University of Texas at El Paso campus by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, which received SITES Silver (see image above); and then, just last week, the Chicago Navy Pier by James Corner Field Operations, which received SITES Gold.

Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect's Newspaper
Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect’s Newspaper

Many more SITES certified projects are expected soon, in part because, earlier this year, the General Services Administration (GSA) issued a new policy: starting in fiscal year 2017, all landscape projects moving forward must be SITES certified. For Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, who championed this policy, “SITES is a way to enforce sustainability goals and get important third party verification,” said David Witek, senior vice president at USGBC, who also sees more governments following GSA’s lead. “Federal, state, and local governments helped launch LEED in the marketplace. They can do the same for SITES.” Already, California’s state government has made an exception to their moratorium on large-scale landscape architecture projects during the drought for SITES-certified projects.

GBCI also recently launched SITES Accredited Professional (AP) for landscape architects and designers who seek to “distinguish themselves in the marketplace.” Like the LEED AP exam, it will include 100 multiple choice questions, explained Khunteang Pa, director of credentialing at GBCI. If landscape architects register for the exam before June 30, 2017, they can take advantage of discount pricing of $300, or $100 off. Registrants can use the rating system, which is free, the reference guide, and the test specifications, which cover 7 knowledge domain areas, to prepare for the exam. Like LEED AP, those with SITES AP will need to maintain their credential by taking 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

USGBC and GBCI have high hopes for SITES: They want 200 SITES AP candidates registered by the end of November, in part to ensure they have enough people to finish their beta testing. “We still have about 50 percent to go with developing the exam,” said Pa.

Long-term, Silvey said, USGBC and GBCI want to see “thousands of SITES accredited professionals, with human resource departments adding SITES AP as a hiring requirement.” He sees SITES itself becoming a household name, with a billion square feet of projects certified. “We just need to scale up now.”

*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

GBCI Launches SITES AP

Green Business Certification Inc.
Green Business Certification Inc.

Green Business Certification Inc.™ (GBCI) announces a new credential for landscape architects and sustainability professionals launching Oct. 1, 2016. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) Accredited Professional (AP) establishes a common framework to define the profession of sustainable landscape design and development and provides landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession.

The SITES rating system is a comprehensive program for developing sustainable landscapes that aligns land development and management with innovative sustainable design. SITES defines what a sustainable site is and, ultimately, elevates the value of landscapes in the built environment.

“As LEED® has undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the power to transform land development and use to help reduce water demand and improve air quality and human health while also connecting people to nature,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI and chief operating officer, USGBC®.

“The introduction of the new SITES credential signifies the growing understanding that a sustainable built environment is not just what is inside the four walls of our homes or offices, but also includes a holistic approach to site selection and landscape development. The SITES AP will designate the leaders in sustainable landscape design and will be an important tool for professionals looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.”

SITES provides a metrics-based approach to important concepts like ecosystem services and green infrastructure so that developers and owners can make informed decisions about their land use. Used by landscape architects, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers and others, SITES aims to transform the landscape development and management practices by enabling the creation of regenerative systems and fostering resiliency, ensuring future resource supply and helping mitigate climate change through careful land planning and development practices.

The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings and draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Today, 47 projects have achieved SITES certification under the pilot, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.

SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

The first sponsored testing opportunity for the SITES AP exam will be held on Oct. 3, 2016, during the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at a testing center in Culver City, California. The exam is open to both Greenbuild attendees and those who are not attending the conference. Register for the SITES AP exam.

An additional testing opportunity will be held on Oct. 25, 2016, during the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans. Register for the SITES AP exam at ASLA and see other SITES-related education at the ASLA Annual Meeting.

ASLA Survey: Landscape Architecture Student Body Shifts

ASLA 2016 Student Collaboration Honor Award. Bridging Disciplines/Cultivating Health: Using a collaborative international community design/build model to facilitate mental health treatment. University of Washington students / Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA
ASLA 2016 Student Collaboration Honor Award. Bridging Disciplines/Cultivating Health: Using a collaborative international community design/build model to facilitate mental health treatment. University of Washington students / Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA

ASLA recently released its annual graduating student survey, which was completed by graduating students from 46 accredited undergraduate and graduate landscape architecture programs, up from 38 in 2015. A total of 329 students responded. The purpose of this survey is to gather information on post-graduation plans.

While the average age for undergraduates and graduates remained consistent with previous years, 24 and 29 respectively, and the male to female ratio also remained consistent, there was a considerable change in the race of respondents: just 66 percent indicated they are Caucasian, down from 68 percent in 2015 and 70 percent in 2014. The percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students remained unchanged at 20 percent. The number of Hispanic students decreased to 6 percent from 8 percent in 2015. For the first time since 2005, the number of African American students reached 3 percent, or the highest percentage in the survey’s 17-year history. Native American students remained consistent with previous years at just 1 percent.

Students enter graduate landscape architecture programs with diverse educational backgrounds. Those mentioned by two or more respondents include: architecture; art history; communications; environmental design and biology; environmental planning; environmental science; fine arts; geography; graphic design; horticulture; economics; landscape architecture; psychology; and urban planning.

For the second year, the survey asked respondents about how they were funding their education and any education-related debt. 69 percent of undergraduates indicated their parents or grandparents paid or contributed to their education. Graduate students indicated scholarships, federal loan programs, and family funding as the top funding sources. The average amount of debt carried by undergraduates increased slightly from $19,800 to $20,400 and rose from $36,600 to $40,600 for graduate students. The percentage of students with more than $20,000 or more in debt increased to 49 percent from 47 percent in 2015.

For students researching assistance with loan forgiveness, there are several federal loan assistance and forgiveness programs already in place, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which forgives debt if a landscape architect works for a government or not-for-profit, like a community design center.

90 percent of respondents indicated they plan to seek employment in the profession, which is consistent with the previous two years, while the number of respondents planning on pursuing additional education remained consistent with last year at 5 percent. Of those looking for a job, 69 percent plan to seek employment in a private sector landscape architecture firm and 9 percent in the public sector. 84 percent intend to seek state licensure.

Respondents were asked to rank a variety of attributes, based on their importance to them in selecting job. The top two rated factors by respondents were geographic location and type of organization, which is consistent with previous years, and the third most important factor, indicated by respondents, is reputation of the organization.

Up from last year, 60 percent of respondents had been on one or more interviews during their final semester. Respondents expected starting salary decreased slightly to $46,400 from $46,600 in 2015. The number of respondents that had one or more job offers decreased to 47 percent from 50 percent in 2015. The average starting salary increase for the second year in a row is $43,600.

The number of respondents who have already started a job dropped slightly to 43 percent from 50 percent in 2015. Three-quarters of respondents who have accepted a job offer indicated the position is with their preferred type of employer, up from two-thirds in 2015.

On benefits: the percentage of respondents reporting that they will receive major medical insurance was up to 93 percent from 82 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who will receive 401K retirement benefits decreased to 67 percent from 72 percent in 2015. The percentage of respondents who have employers who pay their professional dues increased for the second year in a row to 29 percent. Other benefits provided by employers were continuing education stipend, Landscape Architecture Registration Board Exam (LARE) reimbursement, and bonuses.

And how did the survey respondents get hooked on landscape architecture? They were most likely to have first learned about the field from talking to a landscape architect or from reading about the field online or in a book, newspaper, or magazine. The number of respondents reporting that a landscape architect visited their school to talk about the profession was only 1 percent. However, 20 percent of all graduating students made at least one visit to an elementary, middle, or high school.

Graduating student surveys dating back to 2002 are posted at ASLA’s Career Discovery web site. Also learn more about ASLA’s diversity efforts.

This guest post is by Susan Apollonio, ASLA Director of Education Programs.

ASLA Announces 2016 Student Awards

ASLA 2016 Student Residential Design Award of Excellence / Residential Gardens as a Health Strategy in Impoverished Communities in Developing Countries: A Case Study in Iquitos, Peru / Jorge Alarcon, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington
ASLA 2016 Student Residential Design Award of Excellence / Residential Gardens as a Health Strategy in Impoverished Communities in Developing Countries: A Case Study in Iquitos, Peru / Jorge Alarcon, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 22 student award recipients for 2016. Selected from 271 entries representing 71 schools, the awards honor the top work of landscape architecture students in the U.S. and around the world. The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.

The September issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine (LAM) features the winning projects and is available for free viewing.

The following is a complete list of the 2016 student award winners:

General Design Category

Honor Awards
Bendway Park
by Eric Arneson, Student Affiliate ASLA, an undergraduate student at the Academy of Art University

FOGFEST – California Fog Collection Festival in Highway 1
by Pablo Alfaro, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley

The Digital & The Wild: Mitigating Wildfire Risk Through Landscape Adaptations
by Jordan Duke, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto

Urban Ecological Melody
by CC (Qinhe) Qian, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design

Residential Design Category

Award of Excellence (see image above)
Residential Gardens as a Health Strategy in Impoverished Communities in Developing Countries: A Case Study in Iquitos, Peru
by Jorge Alarcon, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Washington

Analysis and Planning Category

ASLA 2016 Student Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence. Amphibious Culture: Harmonizing Between Life and Seasonally Flooded Forest / Panithan Kasinphila, Student Affiliate ASLA, an undergraduate student at Chulalongkorn University
ASLA 2016 Student Analysis and Planning Award of Excellence. Amphibious Culture: Harmonizing Between Life and Seasonally Flooded Forest / Panithan Kasinphila, Student Affiliate ASLA, an undergraduate student at Chulalongkorn University

Award of Excellence
Amphibious Culture: Harmonizing Between Life and Seasonally Flooded Forest
by Panithan Kasinphila, Student Affiliate ASLA, an undergraduate student at Chulalongkorn University

Honor Awards

Creating Sustainable Future of Mae Kha Canal in Chiang Mai, Thailand
by Sunantana Nuanla-or, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Louisiana State University

From Gold to Pearl: A Framework of Eco-friendly Industry Catalyzing River Revitalization
by a graduate student team at Sichuan Agricultural University

Harnessing the Beating Heart: Living Systems Infrastructure on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia
by William Baumgardner, Student ASLA, an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University

The Vermilion Corridor: Rediscovering the Waterways of Southern Louisiana
by Alexander Morvant, Associate ASLA, an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University

PHYTO-Industry: Reinvigorating the North Vancouver Waterfront Through a Phased Remediation Process
by Shan Yang, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the University of Toronto

Sifting the Landscape: Transforming Vacant Lands through Smart Decline
by Yuxian Li, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Texas A&M University

Communications Category

Honor Awards
Porous Public Space: People + Rainwater + Cities
by a graduate student team at the University of Washington

South Dakota Transect: 44 Degrees North
by an undergraduate student team at South Dakota State University

Ground Up Journal Issue 5: Delineations
by a graduate student team at the University of California, Berkeley

Dan Kiley Landscapes in Bartholomew County, Indiana and Planting Typologies at the Miller Garden and North Christian Church
by Zhen Tong, Student ASLA, a graduate student at the Pennsylvania State University

Research Category

ASLA 2016 Student Research Award of Excellence. Feasibility Study of the Integration of Epiphytes in Designed Landscapes / Brandon Cornejo, Student ASLA, an undergraduate student at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
ASLA 2016 Student Research Award of Excellence. Feasibility Study of the Integration of Epiphytes in Designed Landscapes / Brandon Cornejo, Student ASLA, an undergraduate student at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo


Award of Excellence    

Feasibility Study of the Integration of Epiphytes in Designed Landscapes
by Brandon Cornejo, Student ASLA, an undergraduate student at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Honor Award
Flowers in Crannied Walls: An Elementary Schoolyard Redesign
by Taylor Metz, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Ball State University

Student Collaboration Category

Honor Awards
Bridging Disciplines/Cultivating Health: Using a Collaborative International Community Design/Build Model to Facilitate Mental Health Treatment
by a graduate and undergraduate student team at the University of Washington

Seeding Sideyards
by a graduate student team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Community Service Category

Honor Awards
GrowingChange Prison Flip: Reclaiming an Abandoned Prison Site
by a graduate and undergraduate team from North Carolina State University

Neighborhood Detox: Enhancing Resilience in a Hazard Vulnerable Area
by Yangdi Wang, Student ASLA, a graduate student at Texas A&M University

The student awards jury included:

  • Laura Solano, ASLA, Chair, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Ned Crankshaw, ASLA, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky
  • Terrence DeWan, FASLA, Terrence J. DeWan & Associates, Yarmouth, Main
  • Janelle Johnson, ASLA, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, Chicago
  • Jeffrey Lee, FASLA, Lee and Associates Inc., Washington, D.C.
  • Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, National Capital Planning Commission, Washington, D.C.
  • Forster Ndubisi, FASLA, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • Trinity Simons, Mayor’s Institute on City Design, Washington, D.C.
  • Barbara Swift, FASLA, Swift & Company Landscape Architects, Seattle

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

LandscapeDeclarationLogo
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)

LandscapeDeclarationLogo
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.