Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (February 16-28)

Studio Zewde’s Graffiti Pier project in Philadelphia / Studio Zewde

Studio Zewde Designs for Cultural and Climate Resilience
02/24/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“With several major projects on the docket—including a five-acre park in Pittsburgh’s historically Black Homewood neighborhood—Zewde persists in combating the shibboleths of her field. Landscape has adopted the rubric of resilience as an overarching frame, but its manifestation in individual projects can often feel like an add-on or PR spin.”

Cities Are Sinking Under the Weight of Urban Development
02/23/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“A new study seeks to quantify how much the sheer weight of the built environment contributes to the sinking of cities, a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence.”

Here Are the Winning Landscape Art Installations for the 2021 International Garden Festival
02/19/21, Archinect
“The annual International Garden Festival is returning to the historic Reford Gardens in Grand-Métis, Quebec this summer, and five new projects have just been chosen to be featured alongside the existing gardens.”

WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand Reveal an Expansive Reimagining at Longwood Gardens
02/18/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“WEISS/MANFREDI and Reed Hilderbrand’s ‘sweeping yet deeply sensitive’ transformation will ‘expand the public spaces of the renowned central grounds and connect them from east to west, offering a newly unified but continually varied journey from lush formal gardens to views over the open meadows of Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley.'”

Boston’s Dogs Just Wanna Run Free
02/16/21, The Boston Globe
“So, if the national ‘pandemic puppy’ trend holds up in Boston, soon-to-be mature dogs will be matriculating in public spaces and will insist that their voices are heard. And the dog-owning bloc in Boston naturally keeps sniffing for opportunity and will not take rejection lightly. How does a dog park in every Boston neighborhood sound? That’s the city’s goal, Boston officials confirmed.”

From Ancient Rome to Contemporary Singapore: The Evolution of Conservatories

The Conservatory: Gardens Under Glass / Princeton Architectural Press

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA

According to Pliny, Roman Emperor Tiberius’s doctors instructed their charge to consume a fruit of the Cucurbits family each day. To grow these melon and cucumber fruits year-round on his home island of Capri, Tiberius directed construction of specularia: “[He] had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the Cucumis were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirror-stone.”

Thus begins The Conservatory: Gardens Under Glass. Illustrating their text with stunning photography, the authors Alan Stein and Nancy Virts, co-founders of Maryland’s Tanglewood Conservatories, survey the evolution of the conservatory in Europe, North America, and, ultimately, the world. The conservatory, an outgrowth of global trade, imperialism, and innovation, embodies a historical leap in the conjoining of architecture and landscape architecture—the extension of the growing season by manipulating the outputs of the sun.

Winter-plaats in den Hoff van d’Academie Tot Leyden, engraving, Johannes Commelin, 1676 / The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

After specularia, the next great innovation in overwintering plants didn’t occur until the arrival of oranges to Europe in the late fifteenth century. Wood and stone structures called orangeries protected the citrus from cold temperatures. At first merely functional, these buildings grew increasingly extravagant, achieving maximal opulence in the seventeenth century at Louis XIV’s Versailles. There, the orangery, 492 feet long and 42 feet high with double windows and thick walls, warmed over 1,000 orange trees.

And yet, an “ordinary stone-and-glass orangery” was not suitable for Hugh Percy, the third duke of Northumberland, who needed a structure for his collection of exotic plants—“the floral dividend of Great Britain’s expanding global empire.”

Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire, England, map, Colomb, John Charles Ready, 1886 / Boston Public Library, Normal B. Leventhal Map Center, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Lucky for him, the industrial advances of the nineteenth century were taking hold: new fabrication methods for glass and metal made them ubiquitous and affordable, and standardization increased speed and affordability of construction. With all that at hand, in 1827 Charles Fowler designed the Great Conservatory for Percy’s Syon Park in England, a structure of iron webbing connected by countless panes of glass: the first conservatory.

Syon Park Conservatory / Photo by Alan Stein, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

With material innovation came a shift in intention. Instead of gardens of pleasure for the wealthy, conservatories also became research centers to study the medicinal and industrial value of the plants they housed. The Palm House (1848) at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England particularly embodied this transition. Not only did the conservatory present the first structural use of wrought iron at such a large scale, but it was also free for the public to enter. Kew’s research center served as model for conservatories around the world.

If the Palm House marked a turning point in the use of wrought iron, the Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton did the same for glass. Constructed as the Exposition Hall for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the “revolutionary modular structure” occupied nineteen acres and reached a height of 168 feet—and was built, in fact, around several elm trees on site. The immense amount of glass was enabled by the production of large panes, and machine fabrication allowed uniformity, affordability, and rapid installation. After the international Great Exhibition hosted over 14,000 exhibitors and 6 million visitors, a flurry of conservatory construction swept the world. The Crystal Palace’s light, open space, and facility of construction subsequently informed architecture of all kinds, and the relationship between buildings and the outdoors.

The Crystal Palace Exhibition, London, painting / Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries; Hornbake Digitization Center, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, conservatories at the scale of the Crystal Palace emerged across Europe, growing increasingly elaborate in form and detail. Serving as “a way for the wealthy to preen and for universities to pursue research,” they seemingly offered an acceptable display of affluence. British conservatory design influence emerged from the Chateau Lednice Conservatory in the Czech Republic (1845), the Palm House conservatory (1880) at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, as well as further south in Madrid and Milan.

The Schönbrunn Palace Park conservatory, Vienna, Austria / Photo by Alan Stein, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

North Americans, too, replicated the British conservatory model. They didn’t have an empire, but they had their own brand of colonialism, and, “like the Europeans, Americans needed places to conserve and study what had been found.” New York built its own Crystal Palace (1853); San Francisco erected its Conservatory of Flowers (1879); and Pittsburgh, the Phipps Conservatory (1893). Conservatories became integrated with the City Beautiful movement, whose romanticized parks often included glasshouses, like those in Baltimore and Chicago.

Throughout this progression, as note Marc Hachadourian and Todd Forrest in the volume’s introduction, “the history of conservatory design is the history of humankind’s obsession with cultivating rare, exotic, useful, and beautiful plants.” As such, it is often a history of the elite, as those with the means to obsess over such plants have usually been those of power and wealth—a fact made clear in The Conservatory. But also as such, the history of conservatory design is of those who labored in the conservatories, the factory workers of the industrial revolution, and the territories from which the conservatory plants were snatched, newly “discovered.”

Mount Vernon Orangery, United States / © National Portrait Gallery, London, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

The authors do not eschew the problematic imperial stimulus behind conservatories. And they importantly note that, in the days of orangeries, the primary difference between European and American versions was their work force: American orangeries were built and maintained by enslaved people. Yet this volume begs more such admissions and revelations. As Kofi Boone, FASLA, writes: “what if landscape architecture were described with some acknowledgement of the dynamics of race, class, gender, and power?” Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, in which sat the Peters Rawlings Conservatory (1888), mandated recreational segregated facilities for Black and white individuals until the 1950s. What bearing did this racial division have on visitors to the conservatory?

The history of conservatories also prompts inquiry into their present-day purposes as we struggle to chart new habits beyond our imperial and colonial pasts. Most historic structures have rightly dedicated themselves to education and research, and, along with newly constructed ones, have become leaders in environmental efforts and stewards of biodiversity. Kew, for instance, has played a critical role in protecting Taxus wallichinana, a Nepalese plant from which an anti-cancer drug derives. Though, these initiatives too can be seen as a contemporary embodiment of the same problematic worldview that birthed the structures: a worldview that collects, “protects,” controls, and systematizes the exotic Other.

The modern structures, like their antecedents, exemplify technological advance and trends. Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory (1989), also a modern research institution, was recognized for its energy conservation. The two conservatories at Parc André Citroën (1992) in Paris stand upright through tension cables that underpin skins of glass. Amazon’s Spheres (2018) at its corporate headquarters in Seattle bring nature to its employees so they may “think more collaboratively and creatively” (there are certainly much more cynical interpretations).

And yet, what if a modern conservatory were rooted in and respectful of place and culture, rather than exploitative of them? One of the book’s few glasshouses from the Southern Hemisphere, Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (2012), offers an example in part. Climate change takes center stage at its Cloud Forest, where the visitor ascends the 135-foot thickly vegetated Cloud Mountain. The path winds through different sections, among them “Lost World, “Earth Check,” and “+5 Degrees,” each revealing calamitous effects of a changing climate on plants.

The anthropological alterations of the planet may have themselves altered the gesture of the conservatory. Our longstanding obsession to cultivate plants divorced from site — of a piece with the driving forces of the climate crisis — has turned out to be a preemptive salve: the modern conservatory has germ in the earth that was.

Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome Conservatory, Singapore / Thebigland / Shutterstock.com, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Indeed, from the current vantage point, a visit to a conservatory does seem of the past. In the Covid-19 era, who would elect an indoor nature over that outdoors? But this moment will likely pass, and The Conservatory makes a persuasive argument for the role of conservatories in our contemporary world. The authors’ passion for the structures, and their admiration for the assiduity required to erect and tend them, similarly convinces the reader of their magic.

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and co-editor of the new book Black Landscapes Matter.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (September 15-30)

Mia Lehrer, FASLA / Studio-MLA

Mia Lehrer Tapped for L.A. Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners — 09/28/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Mia Lehrer, founder and president of landscape architecture and urban design practice Studio-MLA (formerly Mia Lehrer + Associates), has been nominated by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to the powerful L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Board of Commissioners.”

Design for the Future When the Future Is Bleak — 09/28/20, The New York Times
“Amid pandemics and environmental disasters, designers and architects have been forced to imagine a world in which the only way to move forward is to look back.”

The Pandemic Bike Boom Hits in Some Unexpected American Cities — 09/23/20, Bloomberg CityLab
“Coupled with the effects of a warming planet, Covid-19 has produced little good news this year. Yet the two crises did pave the way for one positive social shift: a bike boom, including in some unlikely places. New data from Strava, the fitness tracking app used by 68 million global users, shows that several U.S. cities saw significant year-over-year growth in both bike trips and cyclists in much of 2020.”

The Ambitious Restoration of Houston’s Rothko Chapel Is Now Complete— 09/22/30, Architectural Digest
“The landscape architects Nelson Byrd Woltz have been working with ARO to develop the parkland around the chapel, adding tree groves and ‘areas to sit and decompress’ from a visit, Cassell says.”

D.C. Council Unanimously Approves Vision Zero Bill Aimed at Reducing Traffic Fatalities — 09/22/20, The Washington Post
“The legislation, which passed unanimously, accelerates improvements to bike and pedestrian infrastructure, expands the city’s automated traffic enforcement program, and boosts traffic safety education.”

West 8 Debuts First Phase of Houston Botanic Garden — 09/22/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“West 8, the award-winning Dutch landscape architecture and urban design firm with offices in Rotterdam and New York City, has unveiled the highly anticipated first phase of the Houston Botanic Garden, a years-in-the-making, first-of-its-kind horticultural hub for the Bayou City that aims to attract tourists, green thumbs, and the scientific community.”

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

Redesigned White House Rose Garden / Melania Trump twitter

Landscape Architects Create New Spitzer Scholarship — 08/27/20, Real Estate Weekly
“The three-year fellowship was established by Hollander Design Landscape Architects to encourage and support New York City students from demographics and communities that are historically underrepresented in landscape architecture to pursue the field.”

The Full Story Behind the Controversial Rose Garden Redesign — 08/27/20, Architectural Digest
“Per Eric Groft of Oehme, van Sweden, Mrs. Trump prefers pastel flowers, hence the current abundance of John F. Kennedy and Pope John Paul II white roses, relieved here and there by Peace roses in pink and cream. (Seasonal bulbs and annuals will populate the zigzag borders that front the parterres’ triangular compartments.)”

Revamped White House Rose Garden Lambasted on Social Media — 08/25/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Just ahead of the Republic National Convention, Melania Trump this past weekend revealed a refreshed and redesigned White House Rose Garden. And despite some elements of the horticultural overhaul being beneficial or needing time to grow in, reactions from the architecture and landscape architecture community as well as armchair critics on social media has been decidedly not great.”

Amazon and FedEx Push to Put Delivery Robots on Your Sidewalk — 08/25/20, Wired
“In February, a lobbyist friend urged Erik Sartorius, the executive director of the Kansas League of Municipalities, to look at a newly introduced bill that would affect cities. The legislation involved ‘personal delivery devices’—robots that, as if in a sci-fi movie, might deliver a bag of groceries, a toolbox, or a prescription to your doorstep.”

The Therapeutic Power of Gardening — 08/24/20, The New Yorker
“Eight out of ten people in Britain live in a home with a private garden; one in ten at least has access to a balcony, a terrace, a patio, or a communal garden. The national affection for gardening sustains a horticulture industry that is worth about thirty billion dollars a year to the U.K. economy.”

How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering — 08/24/20, The New York Times
“In the 1930s, federal officials redlined these neighborhoods in Richmond, Va., marking them as risky investments because residents were Black. Today, they are some of the hottest parts of town in the summer, with few trees and an abundance of heat-trapping pavement.”

Alleging ‘Environmental Racism,’ Residents Protest Plan to Remove Scores of Mature Trees in Roxbury — 08/23/20, The Boston Globe
“In a move that some residents denounce as a form of environmental racism, city officials are planning a new road project that would cut down about a quarter of those mature trees — among the largest tree removals in recent city history.”

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

Domino Park, Brooklyn, New York / Marcella Winograd, ArchDaily

Gardens Have Pulled America Out of Some of Its Darkest Times. We Need Another Revival05/28/20, Mother Jones
“Google Trends reports that US searches for ‘gardens’ have spiked this spring to their highest level ever, and vegetable seed sales are way up as well. Nearly 20 percent of adults surveyed in April said they had gardened more than usual in the past month.”

Landscape Architect Left Distinct Mark on City — 05/28/20, The Republic
“The memory of a nationally known landscape architect who died earlier this month will live on in his major projects in Columbus. John ‘Jack’ Curtis, 77, died May 2 of COVID-19 complications in Easton, Connecticut, near where he led his firm of Jack Curtis + Associates for more than three decades.”

A Conversation with Mia Lehrer on Her Origins, Civil Service, and Design LeadershipArchinect, 05/27/20
“I think we’re modernists. But we’re also solving problems. I would say that I get inspired, not just by the place and the community and the landscape around this genius loci. But we get inspired by people’s dreams and aspirations that are engaged meaningfully in these project processes and what they want.”

Domino Park Introduces Social Distancing Circles to Adapt to the COVID-19 Crisis — 05/25/20, ArchDaily
“While all public spaces around the world are trying to innovate and implement safety measures to open during the coronavirus pandemic, Domino Park has introduced a series of painted social distancing circles. This strategical urban design intervention ensures that people are “following proper social distancing procedures recommended by the CDC and government”.

Frederick Law Olmsted’s Knowledge of Contagious Diseases Informed His Vision for Urban Parks — 05/24/20, Milwaukee Independent
“The insights Olmsted gained into connections between space, disease control and public health clearly influenced his landscape architectural career and the design of many urban park systems.”

Last Piece of Brooklyn Bridge Park Approved by Landmarks Preservation Commission — 05/21/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“At a virtual public hearing on Tuesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a small but consequential section of Brooklyn Bridge Park that will be located directly at the foot of the 137-year-old landmarked bridge’s eastern tower; the eponymous Brooklyn Bridge Plaza.”

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

Seattle’s Asian Art Museum by LMN Architects and landscape architecture firm Walker Macy / copyright Tim Griffiths

My Internship at Palm Beach County Parks and Rec FIU News, 1/3/20
“During my time, I met landscape architects, directors, contractors, commissioners, as well as many other types of people. I didn’t try to only talk to designers or those who would help me in the future. I was just friendly and enjoyed each day as it came. By doing this, I would just stumble across friends.”

Landscape Architect Dorothée Imbert Picked to Lead Knowlton School of Architecture – Archinect, 1/9/20
“Landscape Architect and educator Dorothée Imbert has been named as the new Director of the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University.”

City’s Plan to Remove Trees From Fort Greene Park Hits a Snag The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1/13/20
“Activists won a new round in their legal fight against a city project that would remove dozens of mature, healthy trees from Fort Greene Park and destroy park features designed by famous landscape artists.”

Seattle’s Asian Art Museum Readies for Reopening After Renovation and Expansion Designboom, 1/14/20
“following a 24-month-long renovation and expansion, Seattle’s asian art museum will reopen to the public on February 8, 2020. the museum’s historic 1933 building closed in early 2017 to address critical needs of infrastructure, accessibility, and program space. now enhanced with a design by LMN Architects, working alongside landscape architect walker macy, the building reopens as ‘a modern museum within an historic icon’.”

Landscape Architect Appointed to Piccadilly Gardens Insider Media, 1/14/20
“A landscape architecture practice has been appointed to produce concept designs for improvements to Piccadilly Gardens and the surrounding area.”

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

1280px-Bartholdi_Park_at_night.jpg
The fountain of Bartholdi Park in Washington, D.C. / Sdkb [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Next to the Botanic Garden Is Another, Tinier Green Refuge – DCist, 12/3/19
“Bartholdi Park isn’t exactly hidden. Located at a busy intersection next to the Botanic Garden (which is celebrating its bicentennial this coming year) and mere steps from the U.S. Capitol, it’s got prime real estate. And that’s kinda the point.”

2019’s Notable Developments in Landscape Architecture – The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 12/6/19
“In 2019 landscape architecture’s greatest impact continued to be in the public realm.”

On the Rooftops of Paris, a New Kind of Urban Garden – The New York Times Style Magazine, 12/7/19
“The landscape architect Arnaud Casaus is creating green spaces wilder and warmer than those found at street level.”

MVRDV Unveils Plan to Transform Seoul’s Waterfront with ‘the Weaves’ – Designboom, 12/10/19
“MVRDV has won a competition to redesign Seoul’s Tancheon Valley and waterfront with a network of pedestrian and bicycle paths, natural landscapes, and public amenities.”

The Floating Utopia of Salesforce Park – The New Yorker, 12/11/19
“San Francisco’s newest public space reflects Big Tech’s influence—and a city’s anxieties.”

The Architect Who’s Confronting Climate Change – Curbed, 12/13/139
“Pamela Conrad is out to restore nature to our cities—and help them face future ecological disasters.”

Best Books of 2019

The Architecture of Trees / Princeton Architectural Press
The Tree Book / Timber Press

Whether you are looking for the perfect gift for your favorite landscape architect or an immersive read for yourself, explore THE DIRT’s top 10 books of 2019, our picks for the best on the environment, cities, and landscape:

The Architecture of Trees and The Tree Book: Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes, and Gardens
Princeton Architectural Press, 2019, and Timber Press, 2019

These are two useful and beautiful books on how to design with trees. The Architecture of Trees — first published by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi, two versatile Italian furniture, landscape, and architectural designers, in 1982 and now reprinted in 2019 — features 212 trees species depicted through 550 intricate quill-pen illustrations, each drawn to 1:100 scale. The Tree Book, written by arboreal guru Michael A. Dirr and Keith S. Warren, director of product development for the tree nursery J. Frank Schmidt and Son Co., includes images, botanical and common names, and the range and climate adaptability of some 2,400 species and cultivars. Read the full review of The Architecture of Trees.

An Atlas of Geographical Wonders / Princeton Architectural Press

An Atlas of Geographical Wonders: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds
Princeton Architectural Press, 2019

This vivid collection of comparative maps and tableaux from the 19th century, organized by French researchers Jean-Christophe Bally, Jean-Marc Besse, Phillipe Grande, and Gilles Palsky, show how explorers, scientists, and artists imagined fantastical landscapes in order to better understand the true scale of the natural world. Their drawings and paintings laid the foundation for today’s geographical data visualizations.

A New Coast / Island Press

A New Coast: Strategies for Responses to Devastating Storms and Sea Level Rise
Island Press, 2019

Jeffrey Peterson, who was recently senior advisor responsible for climate change policy at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s office of water, has written a comprehensive new national policy approach to dealing with sea level rise, a roadmap for reforming the U.S.’s broken flood insurance system and steering development away from increasingly risky coastal areas.

Choked / University of Chicago Press
Clearing the Air / Bloomsbury Sigma

Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution and Clearing the Air: The Beginning and the End of Air Pollution
Bloomsbury Sigma, 2019, and University of Chicago Press, 2019

At the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy argued that telling the story of the dangerous health impacts of climate change will motivate greater public action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Air pollution, which causes the premature death of 7 million people worldwide each year, will only worsen with climate change. As Tim Smedley explains in Clear the Air and Beth Gardiner in Choked, the solutions to the climate and air pollution crises are largely the same: renewable power, clean cook stoves, electric vehicles, and green infrastructure.

Design with Nature Now / Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Design with Nature Now
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2019

Design with Nature Now is an accessible and well-designed companion book to the University of Pennsylvania’s Design with Nature Now symposium and exhibition, which marked the 50th anniversary of Ian McHarg’s seminal book Design with Nature. Edited by Frederick Steiner, FASLA, Richard Weller, FASLA, Karen M’Closkey, and Billy Fleming, ASLA, this collection of essays and projects should inspire any environmental policymaker, planner, or landscape architect to forge broader coalitions and act regionally and globally to save our fragile ecosystems and protect the future of humanity.

Designing a Garden / The Monacelli Press

Designing a Garden: Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Monacelli Press, 2019

Designing a Garden, written by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, is a lucid and candid examination of the process of designing and constructing a single intimate project. Van Valkenburgh intends the book as a sort of how-to guide to landscape design, not unlike a cookbook in terms of detail and clarity. Read the full review.

Planting the Natural Garden / Timber Press

Planting the Natural Garden
Timber Press, 2019

An expanded and updated new edition of a now-classic book that launched the New Perennials movement, fundamentally changing landscape design. Edited by Noel Kingsbury, the book features the works and writings of High Line plant designer Piet Oudolf and late plantsman and designer Henk Gerritsen.

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide / Penguin Press

Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide
Penguin Press, 2019

Journalist Tony Horwitz’s book on Frederick Law Olmsted is difficult to classify. It is a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted and a history of his America. It is also reportage from rural America and a thoughtful reflection on our times. Read the full review.

Buying these books through THE DIRT or ASLA’s online bookstore benefits ASLA educational programs. And if you are based near Washington, D.C. we also recommend checking out the National Building Museum’s fantastic book store.

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

1920px-Freeway_Park_Seattle
Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington / Photo Credit Brianc333a [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Seattle’s Brutalist Freeway Park is Reviewed for National Register and Approved for RenovationThe Architect’s Newspaper,11/5/19
“The gorgeously staggered concrete elements of Jim Ellis Freeway Park, one of the most significant architectural spaces in Seattle, are scattered across a thickly forested hill atop an intersection of Interstate 5 between the neighborhoods of Downtown Seattle and First Hill.”

East Baltimore Redevelopment Project Moves Forward As Construction Begins The Baltimore Sun, 11/7/19
“With construction of the first building in an $889 million revitalization project in East Baltimore already underway, developers and architects have presented city officials the latest design plans for another building.”

Presidio Tunnel Tops Project Kicks Off With Pelosi In Attendance, Completion Due in 2021SFist, 11/7/19
“The official ‘groundmaking’ ceremony was held Thursday to kick off the process of building and landscaping what will create 14 acres of parkland over the top of the 101 freeway tunnels near the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the Presidio to Crissy Field.”

Parkside Project Created to be ‘Uniquely Birmingham’ AL.com, 11/7/19
“The Powell Avenue Steam Plant powered Birmingham’s growth for more than a century. Now an ambitious plan hopes to resurrect it to connect a revitalized Magic City.”

Fall in Storm King Washington Square News, 11/15/19
“But despite the trek, there is an incredible institution upstate that will be worth your time: the Storm King Art Center.”

Deep Insight into a Small Garden

Designing a Garden / Monacelli Press

Designing a Garden, the new book written by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, is a lucid and candid examination of the process of designing and constructing a single project: the Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Van Valkenburgh intends the book as a sort of how-to guide to landscape design, not unlike a cookbook in terms of detail and clarity. Of course a garden is more than the sum of its ingredients, and a design brief is not a soluble equation. But the book’s generous number of sketches, photos, construction documents, and written correspondence help immeasurably to illustrate a general process “common to the making of nearly all built landscapes.”

Monk’s Garden / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Lexi Van Valkenburgh
Monk’s Garden / Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, Alex Maclean

This process of redesigning the existing Monk’s Garden at the museum in the early 2010s begins with a frenetic diagram sketched on a yellow file folder. Here, Van Valkenburgh faces his first challenge: how do you wander in a space so constrained? The space for the Monk’s garden, hemmed in by the museum, is a mere 52 feet by 150 feet. The wandering path becomes not only a central design element but also a device with which to engage the space.

sketch
The initial concept sketch for Monk’s Garden / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Monacelli Press

It is also this story’s charismatic central character. Van Valkenburgh and his team get to work tailoring it to the site. Instinct and experience help generate the first ideas, but those must be refined through design inquiry. For the path’s material, the idea of pine needles is considered and quickly withdrawn, deemed impractical. Bricks, initially dismissed as too common, come back in to the fold. But what size and material? Samples are procured and configured into mock-ups. The design team scrutinizes them from every angle and in every quality of light. Van Valkenburgh remarks that he’ll even hold the materials to his nose, testing for a scent and another data point. He admits it doesn’t usually help, but it probably doesn’t hurt. Black manganese bricks, rich in color with a clean edge, are settled on for the moment. But material is a question the team will regularly revisit.

Meanwhile, path layout tests are staged on site with a garden hose. When the result is too imperfect, the team falls back on surveyor string, until finally getting their hands on the bricks. Hundreds of iterations are born and fizzle on site, in scale models and sketches. Planting ideas begin to take shape and inform the path.

path-sketches
Marked-up iterations of the garden’s wandering path / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Monacelli Press

Van Valkenburgh, a renowned planting designer, illustrates his approach to plant selection in vivid terms. Branches are scaffolding, and the space between them is air. “Airiness,” like figure and spread, is a quality by which a tree can be judged, Van Valkenburgh assures us. “Don’t be confounded by the difficulty of finding words to describe what the space of a tree feels like.” Those fluid qualities are worth consideration and cannot be specified in a drawing.

The airiness of trees in the Monk’s Garden / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Lexi Van Valkenburgh

All of these decisions are made via trial, error, and regular conversation between Van Valkenburgh and Anne Hawley, the museum director at the time. The book opens with a semi-formal letter from Hawley to Van Valkenburgh requesting his services and describing the desired outcome for the garden. Among other attributes, it should be a garden “where Proust could contemplate.”

As for the path, Michael and his team feel it come to life when they decide to incorporate schist as a balance and foil to the manganese. In an email to Hawley explaining the decision, Van Valkenburgh, writes: “All too often people reduce Proust to madeleines, forgetting that the real magic is found in madeleines and mint tea together.”

Manganese and schist bricks combine in the Monk’s Garden / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Scott Shigley

Designing a Garden is a small but outstanding text culminating in a smaller outstanding text, The Gardner Gets a Garden, an essay by Laurie Olin, FASLA. Olin offers effusive appreciation. He contextualizes the garden in relation to other art works and Van Valkenburgh’s own body of work. Van Valkenburgh, Olin writes, has demonstrated a career-long interest in the sensual and perceptual. In this book rich with illustrated and photographic insight, we can understand that conclusion.