Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (June 1-15, 2022)

President Jimmy Carter speaking in front of solar panels placed on the West Wing roof of the White House, announcing his solar energy policy / WKL, Library of Congress.

The 1977 White House Climate Memo That Should Have Changed the World – 06/14/2022, The Guardian
“Years before the climate crisis was part of national discourse, this memo to the president predicted catastrophe.”

At 200, Frederick Law Olmsted Continues to Shape Public Space – 06/11/2022, Boston Globe
“It’s impossible to imagine Boston without its Emerald Necklace, designed by the man considered the father of landscape architecture on principles the city struggles to live up to today.”

Nelson Byrd Woltz Tapped to Lead Planning Process for South Carolina’s Angel Oak Preserve – 06/09/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Angel Oak serves as the crowd-drawing centerpiece of a 9-acre namesake Johns Island park operated by the City of Charleston. In the future, Angel Oak will be further protected within a 35-acre nature preserve surrounding the park that, as announced this week, will be shaped by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.”

Get In. We’re Going to Save the Mall. – 06/08/22, The New York Times
“The second wave of mall building in the 1970s often targeted low-lying areas that were difficult to develop for residential or other uses, and rightly so, as they were bottoms, or stream beds prone to flooding. Meriden Hub Mall in Meriden, Conn., was one such site. In 2007 the city began working on a plan, using local, state and federal funds, to replace the mall with a 14-acre park, opening access to Harbor Creek, creating a public space that also functions as a water retention basin and building a bridge and amphitheater.”

NYC’s Union Square Gets a Colorful Reminder to Calm Down – 06/09/2022, Bloomberg CityLab
“The ‘Ripples of Peace and Calm’ street mural is meant to draw attention to newer pedestrian areas and pay homage to the city’s Asian community.”

How New Orleans Neighborhoods Are Using Nature to Reduce Flooding – 06/08/2022, Grist
“For many New Orleanians, water management isn’t about billion-dollar levees or century-old pumps. It’s about small, nature-based projects like that rain garden or pavement that allows water to soak in, new wetlands, or streets lined with trees.”

Solution or Band-Air? Carbon Capture Projects Are Moving Ahead – 06/07/2022, Yale Environment 360
“Long discussed but rarely used, carbon capture and storage projects — which bury waste CO2 underground — are on the rise globally. Some scientists see the technology as a necessary tool in reducing emissions, but others say it simply perpetuates the burning of fossil fuels.”

First Phase of OJB Landscape Architecture’s Sweeping Omaha Park Overhaul Will Open July 1 – 06/07/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Downtown Omaha’s rectangular urban green space, which first debuted in 1977 with a design by Lawrence Halprin & Associates, necessitated a 21st century refresh following an extended period of underuse and neglect. As OJB put it, the park had long grappled with ‘difficult access and activation issues.’”

PRIDE: Creating Inclusive Landscapes for All to Enjoy — 06/01/2022, Luxe
“For landscape architect David A. Rubin, empathy and accessibility are core qualities of business and personal ethos. The founding principal of DAVID RUBIN Land Collective—a nationally certified LGBT small business enterprise studio with locations in Philadelphia and Indianapolis—urges designers to shed light on the challenges of others by asking a simple question: ‘How can I help you?’ Here, Rubin underscores the value in taking risks and seeking commonalities over contrasts.”

Boston’s Heat Plan — 06/01/2022, Architectural Record
“The Heat Plan follows a nearly decade-long collaboration between Sasaki and the City of Boston and is a new and critical component of the Climate Ready Boston initiative, which seeks to address the short- and long-term effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise and extreme precipitation.”

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (May 16-31, 2022)

Aerial view of flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Hurricane Harvey flood impact in Texas / SC National Guard, CC BY 1.0.

Fighting Flooding in Houston and New York — 05/31/2022, Architectural Record
“‘These types of projects are often deployed opportunistically, connecting to existing trails, open space—or leveraging adjacent infrastructure projects,’ explains Scott McCready, principal at landscape architecture firm SWA Group’s Houston office. That approach can result in already well-served areas’ seeing greater investment, but leaving needier neighborhoods behind, which McCready says ‘is an ongoing challenge to all involved.'”

How the ‘Queen of Slag’ Is Transforming Industrial Sites — 05/30/2022, The New York Times
“For more than 30 years, Julie Bargmann, a landscape architect and founder of D.I.R.T. Studio (Dump It Right There) in Charlottesville, Va., has focused on contaminated and forgotten urban and postindustrial sites, dedicating her practice to addressing social and environmental justice.”

21 Questions with Landscape Architect Signe Nielsen — 05/30/2022, Curbed
“New York’s ‘21 Questions’ is back with an eye on creative New Yorkers. Signe Nielsen is a landscape architect who has practiced in New York for over 40 years. Her firm, MNLA, designed Hudson River Park; Little Island, in collaboration with Heatherwick Studio; and the Governor Island master plan, in collaboration with West 8. Nielsen is the president of the city’s Public Design Commission.”

Yes, You Can Save Lives by Planting Trees, a New Study Says — 05/27/2022, Grist
“For a study published earlier this month in Frontiers in Public Health, researchers looked at 35 metropolitan areas within the U.S. They compared satellite data showing changes in how much greenery a city had with mortality data for people aged 65 and older from 2000 to 2019. Using these measures, they estimated that even small increases in greenery could have saved over 34,000 lives over the past two decades.”

The Social and Economic Benefits of Green Schoolyards — 05/24/2022, Trust for Public Land
“While gray schoolyards had a moderately lower initial renovation cost ($2.3 million compared to $2.6 million for green schoolyards), they yielded no benefits over time, with schools continuing to sink money into resealing asphalt. After the initial investment, green schoolyards brought in almost $600,000 in net benefits.”

COVID-19 Relaxed Red Tape in Cities. Then the Bureaucracy Returned — 05/23/2022, Fast Company
“The fight over a parking lot in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a microcosm of a bigger problem that’s playing out across the country: Cities are designed for cars, not people, and not even a global pandemic has changed that.”

Kansas City Hopes Planting More Trees Will Create ‘A City Within a Park’ and Combat Climate Change — 05/20/2022, Kansas City PBS/Flatland
“City leaders are focusing on expanding the city’s greenery to help fix the causes and effects of global warming. During the day in Kansas City, areas of asphalt and buildings can be as much as seven degrees hotter than outer-lying areas.”

How Countries Weaponize Landscape Design in War — 05/16/2022, Fast Company
“Landscape design presents itself as a tool capable of influencing the health and well-being and, therefore, the hearts and minds of local populations. Ultimately it can achieve military objectives through the planning and planting of green space.”

ASLA Announces 2021 Student Awards

ASLA 2021 Student General Design Honor Award. The Interaction Between Masks And Desertification: A Paradigm of Family Sand Control by Mongolian Herdsmen. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Xi Zhao; Xue Li; Xinyu Yang; Qiong Wang, Student International ASLA, Beijing Forestry University

ASLA announces the 2021 Student Award winners. The 35 winning projects exemplify the highest level of achievement by future landscape architect professionals. The students themselves will be honored at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, Nov. 20 in Nashville, TN.

Winners each year are chosen by a jury panel representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, as well as academia. The 35 winners were chosen from 440 submissions of projects from around the world. Awards categories include: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Collaboration, and Community Service.

“This program not only honors the tremendous creativity and passion of these future landscape architect leaders, it also highlights the extraordinary contributions they will make to communities upon graduation,” said Torey Carter- Conneen, CEO of ASLA.

Student Award recipients will be honored in-person at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, TN on Saturday, November 20th, at 6pm ET.

Explore the full list of this year’s Student Award winners

In Iceland, Drawing Down Carbon Dioxide Straight from the Air

Orca, Iceland / Climeworks

To date, carbon capture and storage systems, which have sought to divert and bury carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, have been controversial. Often associated with the oil and gas industry, these systems are seen as an expensive and complicated solution that may only help to postpone the inevitable shift to renewable energy. But Orca, a new facility in Iceland by Swiss firm Climeworks and Icelandic startup Carbfix, promises to de-couple carbon capture and storage from fossil fuels and instead scrub excess carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere.

Using a set of fans and filters packed into boxes the size of 40-foot shipping containers, this new facility is expected to remove 4,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the air annually, injecting it deep into the ground, where it will eventually mineralize into rock. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that amount of carbon dioxide equals annual emissions from around 870 cars. Climeworks hopes to remove 500,000 tons by 2030 and eventually 300 million tons a year, but this would still only account for 1 percent of global emissions. For reference: in 2020, 31.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases were emitted.

At the opening ceremony of Orca, Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said: “this is indeed an important step in the race to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, which is necessary to manage the climate crisis.”

Orca, which in Icelandic is phonetically the same as “energy,” is entirely powered by renewable energy. According to The Guardian, the system uses fans to push air into a collector with filters that separate out the carbon dioxide. As the filter material fills with CO2, the gas is heated to approximately to 212°F (100°C), which enables concentrated CO2 to be separated out, mixed with water, and injected 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) underground in basalt caverns, where the mixture becomes hydride of sulphur (HS2) in approximately four months and then dark grey rock 20 months afterwards. The system is expected to work well with the geology of Iceland, but it’s unclear whether it can succeed in other geologies, and what amount, type, and quality of water is required to inject and mineralize the gas.

Orca, Iceland / Climeworks
Orca, Iceland / Climeworks

Another issue is the comparatively high-cost of the nascent technology: about $600 to $800 per ton of carbon storage, which is much higher than the $100 to $150 needed to make the system cost-competitive without subsidies or a corporate benefactor. The companies involved believe that as they scale up their facilities, costs can be reduced to $200 to $300 per ton by 2030 and half that again by 2040.

The Washington Post states that injecting CO2 into the ground is just one way to handle excess CO2 captured from the atmosphere. Climeworks’ 15 other installations across Europe harvest CO2 into order to recycle for other uses: It can be mixed with hydrogen to make fuels. Farmers can feed their plants CO2. Soda companies can use it to create bubbles.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that methods to actively draw down greenhouses gases from the atmosphere will be required to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. The International Energy Agency contends that carbon capture and storage systems will need to pull 1 billion tons out of the atmosphere by 2050 to be viable in helping to achieve that goal. While Orca may increase interest and investment in scaling up machine-based carbon capture and storage, another solution that offers so many additional benefits shouldn’t be forgotten — trees.

An average tree absorbs an estimated 48 pounds of CO2 per year, so by the time it reaches 40 years old, it has stored a ton of carbon. Given the relatively long time frame for trees to sequester carbon and the world’s more immediate carbon draw down needs, many scientists and environmental groups have called for planting vast forests at a much faster pace. The United Nations’ trillion tree campaign, supported by the World Economic Forum and American Forests, seeks to “conserve, restore, and grow” one trillion trees around the world by 2030.

American old growth forest / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Scientists are also looking more broadly at tree planting as a tool to restore forest ecosystems and store more carbon terrestrially over the longer term. A 2019 study in the journal Science found that “ecosystems could support an additional 0.9 billion hectares of continuous forest. This would represent a greater than 25 percent increase in forested area, including more than 200 gigatonnes of additional carbon at maturity. Such a change has the potential to store an equivalent of 25 percent of the current atmospheric carbon pool.”

So trees alone are also not the answer to the climate crisis, but they offer many other ecological and human health benefits beyond their ability to naturally capture and store carbon — supporting sustainable water cycles and biodiversity, providing shade, and cooling and cleaning the air. Many trees also offer usable wood: the only building material that stores carbon.

ASLA 2016 Professional General Design Honor Award. The Metro-Forest Project, Prawet, Bangkok, Thailand. Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) / Rungkit Charoenwat
ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Award of Excellence. Dilworth Plaza, Philadelphia. OLIN / Sahar Coston-Hardy

Landscape architects plan and design parks, plazas, and streetscapes, increasing the percentage of communities that are forested. A key next step is to bring the benefits of these beautiful carbon sinks to all communities in an equitable way. American Forests states that 522 million trees need to be planted and protected in U.S. cities alone to achieve tree equity.

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

Swampdoodle II / NoMA Parks Foundation, Lee and Associates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (March 16-31)

MARABAR by Elyn Zimmerman / Courtesy of The Cultural Landscape Foundation

National Geographic Headquarters Plaza Redesign Threatens Historically Significant Sculpture3/31/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“In 1984, the scientific and educational organization, the National Geographic Society commissioned Elyn Zimmerman—a then up-and-coming New York-based artist—to produce a sculpture within the modernist plaza of its Washington, D.C., headquarters.”

How COVID-19 Is Affecting Architecture Students and Educators on an Emotional Level — 3/31/20, Archinect
“Archinect asked for responses from its global community via the ongoing survey How is your school dealing with the coronavirus outbreak? to learn how students and educators in the architecture field were dealing with the transition.”

How Essential Is Construction During the Coronavirus Pandemic? — 3/30/20, Curbed
“While some cities and states are shutting construction down, others are granting exceptions, particularly where it relates to the nationwide housing shortage. Meanwhile, industry groups are pushing for federal-level designation of construction as an essential business.”

D.C. Planted Nearly 80 Trees a Day to Reach a Canopy Target. It’s Running out of Space —3/27/20, The Washington Post
“Midway through a years-long tree campaign, the same economic successes that ushered in new residents and transformed neighborhoods across Washington are threatening to stymie the city’s woodland progress.”

Here’s What Our Cities Will Look Like After the Coronavirus Epidemic — 3/26/20, Kinder Institute for Urban Research
“The threat of infectious disease is likely to ramp up urban design as a solution — perhaps, for example, by creating more separation in public spaces like restaurants and parks.”

Is COVID-19 Making You Stay at Home? Turn Your Home Into a Healing Space — 3/24/20, University of Arizona News
“’A few simple interventions can turn your home from a stressful space into a healing one,’ says Esther Sternberg, who holds the Andrew Weil Chair for Research in Integrative Medicine.”

The Ferns of Dumbarton Oaks in 3D

Sophia McCrocklin’s Ferns of Dumbarton Oaks / Sophia McCrocklin

“Why ferns? Because some are 350 million years old.” The world’s oldest living plants show the incredible resilience of nature’s best designs. Looking closely at ferns under a microscope, Washington, D.C.-based artist Sophia McCrocklin found that their “spores are in fact little springs,” perfectly engineered for propagation over the megaannums.

McCrocklin grew up in Kentucky. Appalled by coal companies strip-mining the landscape, she decided to fight them and became an environmental attorney. At the same time, McCrocklin explored her interest in fiber art and began showing in galleries and Ky Guild of Artists.

Her interest in ferns started about six years ago by chance. “I have always loved trees and had never thought about ferns. But I was on a hike one day in Rock Creek Park and had to go around a tree that had fallen. As I was scrambling around the log, I came face to face with a fern. It was winter and the fern was the only thing green out, so it caught my attention.”

She had been out in the forest looking for something to make in 3D, so when she got home she cut off a branch of a Boston fern in her house. She ended up replicating a stalk that was 3-4 inches long and showed people, but they were “not impressed.” She realized she needed to make a fern much larger so that people would notice it as much as they do a tree.

Ebony Spleenwort Fern / Sophia McCrockin

Someone told her that there were many types of ferns at Dumbarton Oaks Park (DOP) in Washington, D.C. Landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, who designed the space as the naturalistic companion to the formal gardens above at Dumbarton Oaks, had planted 8 types, but there were also 7 others native to the area.

After speaking with DOP Conservancy staff, including landscape designer Ann Aldrich, the park’s resident plant expert, McCrocklin started to catalogue and investigate the ferns. She then decided to undertake a series of large-scale art works, organizing them into categories: Farrand’s ferns, other native ferns, and inspired ferns, which include some of her early explorations. She later became the park’s first artist-in-residence.

McCrocklin essentially photocopies the ferns and blows them up to a very large scale. She also looks at ferns under a microscope at the Smithsonian’s US Herbarium to ensure the details of the plant scale up accurately.

In Annapolis, McCrocklin purchased junk Dacron boat sails, a durable polyster material, for around $1 a pound. She cuts ferns out of the Dacron, sews them, and inserts copper wire to support the stalks and leaflets. Color is added through acrylic paint or pencils. Spores are made of anything from mustard seeds to beads of glass. The fuzzy parts of the ferns’ stems crafted from shredded canvas fiber or sometimes cotton. “I try whatever works.”

Grape Frond fern spores / Sophia McCrocklin
Interrupted Fern spores / Sophia McCrocklin
Roots of a Cinnamon Fern / Sophia McCrocklin

Each is then mounted on a heavy canvas board, or otherwise it would collapse. The canvas is painted with a cherry blossom pattern, reflecting how they can be seen in spring in Dumbarton Oaks Park.

Each fern takes about 6 months and is either 4.5 feet square or approximately 2.5 feet wide by nearly 7 feet tall.

Some are more challenging than others to engineer at large sizes. Sword ferns like the Boston or Christmas fern, which have one stalk with attached leaves, are relatively straightforward.

Christmas Fern / Sophia McCrocklin

Tassel ferns, on the other hand, are like small trees, with many branches, each with leaves. “They are very time consuming. If I had tackled tassel ferns in the beginning, I’m not sure I would have done this project,” she said, only half-joking.

Tassel Fern / Sophia McCrocklin

After spending many years with them, McCrocklin has grown to love ferns. By enlarging them and making them such tactile works, she wants to convey how important they are.

“We easily look up at big trees because they are magnificent and awe-inspiring. We rarely look down at ferns, but the loss of these plants and the forest’s understory is the canary in the coal mine.”

Sensitive Fern / Sophia McCrocklin

She said some areas of Maryland fence out deer. The result is a “dense and lush” understory. But in D.C., where deer roam, “there is just bare ground, which is bizarre.”

“I want to make people aware that the understory is vital to the health of the forest. People need to pay more attention to the little things, as they signal the condition of our ecosystems. A forest may look healthy if it is filled with trees, but trees are really the last to go.”

McCrocklin’s exhibition, which was to be free and open to the public in early April, has been cancelled due to COVID-19 and will be rescheduled for next spring or fall. Explore her work at her website and on Instagram.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (October 1 – 15)

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ASLA 2019 Honor Award in General Design, The High Line, Section 2, James Corner Field Operations / Iwan Baan

Hidden Esplanade Garden of Landscape Architect Rene Fransen Is Lush in Shades of GreenThe Times-Picayune, 10/2/19
“Most French Quarter gardens are hidden from public view, secreted behind masonry walls, glimpsed only through an open gate. Removed from the scrutiny of passersby, they provide their owners with a respite from the busy goings-on of the Vieux Carre.”

Landscape Prize Honors Cornelia Hahn OberlanderThe New York Times, 10/3/19
“Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is widely regarded as the grande dame of landscape architecture. Now she is the inspiration for a new biennial $100,000 international landscape prize established by the Cultural Landscape Foundation. The prize is named in honor of the 98-year-old Ms. Oberlander.”

Amid the Smoke of a Burning Amazon Rises the Specter of the Artist Roberto Burle MarxThe Washington Post, 10/3/19
“He was a landscape architect, a painter, a ceramist, a textile artist and more. But it was his other and lesser-known incarnations, as a plant explorer and conservationist, that came sharply into focus as the exhibition played out in the botanical garden’s grounds, conservatories and galleries in the Bronx. The reason: The Amazon is on fire.”

8 Notable NYC Projects Designed by Latino ArchitectsCurbed NY, 10/4/19
“A principal at James Corner Field Operations, Puerto Rican landscape architect Isabel Castilla worked as the lead designer and project manager for the High Line at the Rail Yards, which opened in 2014.”

Student, Landscape Architects Create 1967 Fire MemorialCornell Chronicle, 10/8/19
“A new memorial in the center of campus, created this summer and designed by a landscape architect student, serves as a contemplative reminder of eight students and a professor who died in a tragic fire in 1967 at the off-campus Cornell Heights Residential Club.”

AN Rounds Up the Best Landscape Architecture Lectures Nationwide The Architect’s Newspaper, 10/10/19
“America’s top architecture and design schools are filling out their lecture series line-ups with leading thought leaders in landscape architecture and design. Coast-to-coast, AN has selected six of these can’t-miss lectures that delve into issues such as climate change, urban beautification, the ecology of memory, and more.”

Global Reforestation Could Drawdown Carbon but Also Jeopardize Water Supplies

2880px-Eucalyptus_plantation_in_final_stages
Eucalyptus Plantation in Arimalam, India / Wikimedia Commons

In the global scramble to reduce carbon emissions, planting more trees is always near the top of the list of solutions. Pegged as a low-cost, natural, and scalable approach, projects like the Great Green Wall in North Africa, Pakistan’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, and New York City’s Million Tree Program raise the bar for this climate change mitigation strategy. While a new scientific study found there is untapped potential for carbon sequestration through planetary reforestation, other researchers are concerned about how growing new forests could reduce the focus on preserving existing old growth forests or negatively impact the water supply in developing countries.

The recent study published in Science, led by Thomas W. Crowther at ETH-Zürich, posits that an increase in 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) of new forests, an amount that would cover about 14 percent of habitable land, could sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. This means a forest roughly the size of the United States or China could sequester more than five times the annual carbon output of the planet.

Under current climate conditions, the Earth could support a maximum of 4.4 billion hectares (10.9 billion acres) of forests. Approximately 2.8 billion hectares (6.9 billion acres) are currently forested. This leaves 1.6 billion hectares (4 billion acres) were additional forest could be planted. The research team removed land used for crop-based agriculture or cities,”which are necessary for supporting an ever-growing human population,” leaving 0.9 billion hectares (2.2 billion acres) available for forest restoration.

Across the lifetime of these proposed new forests, the trees would sequester 205 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. For reference, we have released 1,510 gigatons of carbon to date (as of 2015), and some 55 percent of that has been sequestered by oceans and plants.

A sequestration strategy of this magnitude would make a sizable dent in the total carbon released into the atmosphere, but needs to be matched with reductions in fossil fuel use and other major forms of greenhouse gas emissions. The World Resources Institute (WRI) reports that 37.1 gigatons of carbon were released in 2018 alone. At this rate, more carbon will be released than can be captured by the new forests during the 50-100 years it will take for the trees to mature.

Reforestation
A 15-year old reforestation project, U.S. / Wikimedia Commons

The research team is correct in asserting that global tree restoration is “our most effective climate change solution to date,” but some researchers fear that addressing one warning light may turn on others.

For example, focusing on planting new forests instead of preserving old growth trees can have negative impacts. Large, old trees, which support greater biodiversity and sequester more carbon than younger trees, are “declining in forests of all latitudes,” according to a 2012 study. Old growth forests are able to sequester more carbon than their younger counterparts because they are still rapidly growing and increasing their carbon storage capacity. Preserving older forests while implementing massive reforestation efforts would yield the greatest potential for carbon capture and forest ecosystem health.

Protecting large old trees is an important part of the climate mitigation effort, and something that landscape architects working at a variety of scales can support. Every reforestation effort, even in an urban park, should take into account existing trees and the role they play in ecosystems.

General_Sherman_Tree
General Sherman Tree, the largest living tree by volume / Neal Parish, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Trees need water to thrive. The renewed call for mass reforestation across the globe has some researchers worried about the effect this will have on local water supplies.

In a recent study published in Nature, Jaivime Evaristo and Jeffery J. McDonnell examine the impact of forest management practices, such as deforestation, conversion into agricultural land, regrowth, and afforestation (growing new forests), on the availability of water in watersheds. The study develops a vegetation-to-bedrock model, which considers the geology of a given region in relation to its capacity to store water.

The researchers found that deforestation and conversion of forests into agricultural land increases the volume of water present in almost all watersheds, while regrowth of forests and afforestation reduced the volume of water. “The vast majority of the water loss in afforested and reforested areas is from evapotranspiration, which is a combination of evaporation from soil and other surfaces and transpiration from plants.”

Afforestation and deforestation have the largest impacts on streamflow in watersheds. Deforestation can cause flash floods, but reforestation can lead to droughts.

The data also shows the percentage change in tree cover is correlated to the socio-economic status of a country. Developing and least developed countries lose the most tree cover while developed and emerging countries lose the least. The researchers think this correlation between tree-cover change and economic status “suggests that countries that have infrastructure in place for capturing and storing water may be least vulnerable to possible water supply shortages associated with planting schemes.”

Furthermore, the research team concludes the magnitude of a forest management technique is correlated with the water-yield response. Reforesting nearly 14 percent of the landmass is a massive change, one that would surely have consequences for local communities and ecosystems.

The researchers recognize their streamflow analysis could be used most prudently “for re-calibrating the cost-benefit matrix of climate change mitigation schemes (for example, planting and removal) in different geo-climate regions around the world.”

Book Review: The Architecture of Trees

The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

The Architecture of Trees was first published by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi, two versatile Italian furniture, landscape, and architectural designers, in 1982. This “scientific tome” and “original ‘labor of love and obsession'” has been re-issued by Princeton Architectural Press in all its arboreal glory.

The book features 212 trees species depicted through 550 intricate quill-pen illustrations, each drawn to 1:100 scale. A handy paper ruler is included to help readers better understand the full breadth of these beauties. Each tree is depicted with and without foilage, showing summer and winter forms. The shape of each tree’s shadows and the hues of their seasonal color are also vividly conveyed.

According to an introduction to the new edition by Andrea Cavani and Guilio Orsini, curators of the Cesare Leonardi archive, Leonardi studied at the University of Florence, which encouraged a “liberal interpretation of the discipline of architecture, an interpretation that abandoned schematic rationalism and instead was open to visual art, design, landscape, graphic design, communications, philosophy, and sociology.”

In Florence, Leonardi interacted with trees he didn’t recognize. “Their sizes and shapes impressed him, and he felt ‘more drawn to them than to architectural forms.'” While creating a landscape design for a new city park in Modena, he realized that “it would be impossible to design a park without a deep understanding of its elements, meaning trees.”

The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

But he found that just reading about trees wouldn’t cut it; he needed to more deeply understand them. In the areas surrounding Florence and Modena, he “studied specimens, photographed them, and took note of their names and dimensions; and, then, with an eye to using them in his plans, he drew the trees in India ink on transparent film, using photographs for guidance and working on a scale of 1:100.”

Tree specimen from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press
Tree specimen from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

Drawing, Cavani and Orsini argue, enabled Leonardi to isolate the tree from its surroundings, focus on its architectural elements, and clearly depict the features that make a species unique. Over time, Leonardi found that climate, exposure, and soil conditions impacted the growth rate and character of specimens, so he accommodated for those differences, too.

Cavani and Orsini note that The Architecture of Trees wasn’t just a result of tree appreciation, but used to support a series of landscape projects in Italy, including Parco della Resistenza in Modena, swimming pool complexes created in Vignola and Mirandola, and a study for the expansion of the Modena cemetery.

The tree studies were also brought to the design of Parco Amendola in Modena, which opened in 1982. Leonardi and Stagi chose trees based on their “size, shape, shadow, and their changing colors over the course of the year.” A 40-meter (131-foot)-tall sundial tower was designed to “illuminate the center of the park at night with a multiple rotating projector that completed one full turn every hour, creating shadows that morphed continuously.”

Those shade studies are included in the beginning of the book, followed by a color analysis, and the drawings of the trees themselves, which are organized by botanical families, genera, and species. At the end, detailed drawings of tree elements — branches and leaves — are included with relevant notes about how the trees change over their lifespan, their fruit, their smells, and planting notes.

Color analysis from The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press

While the publisher honors the original edition’s organization, moving back and forth between the color analysis, drawings, and detailed drawing notes simply using plate numbers and trees’ Latin names can be a chore. It takes some digging to find the English or common names as well.

In the forward, Laura Conti writes that trees are increasingly critical to making cities more humane and resilient to climate change. And urban leaders need to adopt policies and regulations to enhance the quality of green spaces.

But to actually design and build beautiful and functional urban green spaces, landscape architects and designers must first understand the form and nature of trees, which are inherently malleable. “If man is going to ask trees to help him survive in this prison he has constructed, he cannot simply rely on that plasticity, but must acquire information about the characteristics that each tree inherently assumes in an area’s climate.”

“Competent” landscape architects then naturally take into account “a tree’s size and shape, the pattern of branch growth, the look of leaves in different seasons, and the amount of shade it offers.”

These timeless botanical drawings help us see the aesthetic value of trees themselves — complex, living objects that define the quality and character of any designed landscape.