ASLA Announces 2021 Professional Awards

ASLA 2021 Landmark Award. Portland Open Space Sequence, Portland, Oregon. PLACE.

ASLA announces the 2021 Professional Award winners. The 40 winning projects exemplify the highest level of achievement in the profession, and the professionals themselves will be honored at ASLA’s 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 40 winners were chosen from 486 submissions from around the world. Award categories include: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, and Research. In addition, one Landmark Award is also selected each year.

“This year’s winners demonstrate how landscape architects are increasingly leading the planning and design of healthy and resilient communities for all,” said Torey Carter- Conneen, CEO of ASLA. “Landscape architects are advancing communities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion goals in significant ways.”

Professional Award recipients, their clients, and advisors 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 Professional Award winners

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

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

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Deep Form of Designed Nature: Sanya Mangrove Park, Sanya City, Hainan Province, China. Turenscape

To Curb Urban Flooding, China Is Building ‘Sponge Cities.’ Do They Work? — 07/29/21, The Christian Science Monitor
“Yu Kongjian, a professor of landscape architecture at Peking University, is credited as the main architect of the sponge city concept. In a 2019 video for the World Economic Forum, he described the previous approach to flood prevention as ‘totally wrong.'”

National ‘Vision Zero’ Resolution Introduced — 07/28/21, Streetsblog
“After months of intense campaigning from advocates, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a bi-cameral resolution Tuesday expressing the desire of the legislature to ‘reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2050.'”

As China Boomed, It Didn’t Take Climate Change Into Account. Now It Must. — 07/26/21, The New York Times
“Yu Kongjian, the dean of the School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University, is credited with popularizing the idea in China. He said in a telephone interview that in its rapid development since the 1980s, China had turned to designs from the West that were ill-suited for the extremes that the country’s climate was already experiencing. Cities were covered in cement, ‘colonized,’ as he put it, by ‘gray infrastructure.'”

The Architectural League Celebrates 2021 President’s Medal Recipient Walter Hood — 07/22/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“As noted by the League, Hood, as an artist and designer dedicated to ‘creating beauty in everyday environments, revealing hidden histories, renewing connections, guiding the way to co-existence in all our multiplicity and difference,’ was a ‘fitting person to honor at the moment of our re-engagement of public life.'”

How to Give a Modernist Icon a Makeover — 07/22/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Hiroshi Sugimoto’s renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum’s sculpture garden will bring the Japanese designer’s touch to a space long acclaimed as a modernist landmark.”

In Order to Achieve Tree Equity, the U.S. Must Plant 522 Million Trees in Urban Areas — 07/20/22, The Urbanist
“In order to make up for discrepancies between levels of tree coverage in neighborhoods lacking resources and more affluent, often White majority neighborhoods, the United States must commit to planting 522 million trees in urban areas.”

Commission of Fine Arts Approves Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden Design

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

After a free-wheeling three-hour review, the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) in Washington, D.C. approved the latest design of the Hirshhorn sculpture garden from a team led by Hiroshi Sugimoto, a Japanese artist, architect, and landscape designer. The contentious revamp of the garden, which has gone through two years of review and refinement, features reconfigured outdoor sculpture galleries, a diverse and rich tree and planting design, a new central pool — and the most controversial element, stacked stone walls. The landscape design brings a contemporary Japanese sense of space and materials to the National Mall and will be only the second Asian-inspired design after the Moongate Garden found next to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The new design further diversifies the multicultural experience of the National Mall, which now includes the National Museum of African American History and Culture that incorporates African design motifs.

As ASLA and the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) have recently highlighted, the CFA is currently without a landscape architect for only the second time in its 112-year history. Just a few years ago, three landscape architects, academics, and designers — Mia Lehrer, FASLA, Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, and Liza Gilbert, ASLA — were among the commissioners. But with the new set of four commissioners appointed by the Biden-Harris administration, the CFA is also one of the most diverse in its history, with three commissioners of color, including the first woman and Asian American chair, architect Billie Tsien. The lack of representation of landscape architects on the CFA is a source of concern as the CFA frequently reviews proposals that impact historic landscapes.

Melissa Chiu, the Chinese Australian executive director of the Hirshhorn, introduced the presentation by the design team, which is led by Sugimoto and includes Felix Ade, an architect from YUN Architecture; Faye Harwell, FASLA, a landscape architect and founder of the D.C.-based firm Rhodeside & Harwell; and Alyson Steele, an architect with the D.C.-based architecture firm Quinn Evans.

Chiu argued that the design by Sugimoto and team is a “natural evolution” of the current garden, because Gordon Bunshaft, the original Hirshhorn museum and garden architect, was deeply influenced by Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi and traveled to Japan, where he appreciated stacked stone walls.

Bunshaft’s Brutalist design for the sculpture garden, which opened in 1974, was without trees so became a “hot micro-climate” in the punishing Washington, D.C. summer. In 1981, landscape architect Lester Collins, also a “student of Asian design,” completed a redesign of the garden, creating smaller rooms; adding ample maples, pines, and plants; and a wheelchair-accessible ramp at the National Mall entrance to the park, an advance in accessibility years before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. Prior to Collins’ redesign, the central underground pathway leading from the sunken sculpture garden to the museum was closed. The passageway was viewed as dark and perhaps unsafe and was reconfigured as an educational center.

Lester Collins’ 1981 redesign of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden / Hirshhorn Museum

The new design includes three outdoor gallery experiences that will provide greater curatorial flexibility for the Hirshhorn, Chiu argued.

A new central gallery is a flexible garden space designed for performance art. Responding to feedback from consulting parties as part of seven Section 106 reviews, the Hirshhorn has kept the form of Bunschaft’s original rectangular pool, which mirrors a window above in the Hirshhorn facade. An additional pool has gone through many revisions.

Central Gallery at Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

The design team ultimately landed on a U-shaped pool immediately to the south of the original rectangular pool, separated by a new five-foot-wide central walkway and stage. The pool can drain for events, providing tiers of seating. Harwell argued that it will be a much-needed respite in D.C.’ s brutal summers, helping to cool the space.

Central Gallery at Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

A west gallery will provide space for newly commissioned, large-scale sculpture, with a lawn. The area can be used for “site-specific works, film festivals, and school groups,” Chiu said.

West Gallery at Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

A new east gallery will create smaller rooms filled with trees that offer more intimate spaces for the Rodin and Henry Moore sculptures now found in the garden.

East Gallery at Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

Responding to feedback from the CFA’s first review in 2019 that approved the general concepts, there is now a more fleshed-out landscape design. Harwell explained that the new design preserves much of Collins’ work by protecting the large elms that ring the garden and continuing to feature the pines and maples he planted. But to combat the “sameness” of the current landscape, Harwell is adding nine tree and 40 ground cover species, 70 percent of which will be native. Plants were selected for texture, and colors include whites and cremes, with hints of red. The landscape is designed for seasonal change and to create a sense of “stylized naturalism.”

New broad stone pavers, which are being evaluated in a test area of the garden, will replace the current brown squares. New handrails will be bronze, as they are now. Throughout the landscape, stormwater will be managed on-site, with the help of two underground cisterns that will capture water for irrigation.

New paver design at right, with existing brown square pavers at bottom left / Jared Green

At the south end of the garden, the passageway linking the museum with the garden will be re-opened and sheathed in mirror-like panels that bring light to the tunnel. Commissioners were universally positive about the feature, with Commissioner James McCrery calling it “brilliant.”

View of the new staircase leading to the Museum at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

At the north end, where the garden meets the National Mall, the width of Bunshaft’s original entrance — 60-feet — is restored in the new design. The concrete wall that visitors now see when they enter will also be replaced by a much shorter 42-inch-high stacked stone wall. The accessible ramps at the north entrance will be moved to the west side of the garden, and a new entrance will be created on the east side.

North entrance at Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum
View from north entrance at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

Commissioner Justin Garrett Moore argued that ramps on just the west side of the garden don’t go far enough to create a universally accessible experience for all wheelchair users at various access points. All commissioners agreed that an additional custom-designed elevator was required and needed further study.

New access points, with accessible ramp at left, at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden redesign / Hiroshi Sugimoto, YUN Architecture, Rhodeside & Harwell, Quinn Evans, courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum

The perimeter concrete walls, which are now “inherently unstable,” will be rebuilt, but within the space, new stone stacked inner partition walls will change the character of the space, softening its Brutalism with a more naturalistic feel. The design team has been testing prototypes of the wall within the garden.

Prototype stacked stone wall at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden / Jared Green

According to Ade and Steele, the new stacked stone walls, which will be comprised of stones sourced from a quarry in Pennsylvania, will offer better acoustics, as the walls will be rough, have open joints, and be subtly angled towards the sky, bouncing sound upwards. Chiu said the walls will be critical to supporting performance artists’ work. Ade and Steele confirmed that extensive acoustic studies were conducted to confirm they create a better sound environment than the current concrete walls, which apparently reflect sound directly back to its source.

In a video, Sugimoto said Bunshaft was inspired by Japanese Zen gardens and his goal is to simply “restructure Bunshaft’s design in spirit.” Throughout the review process, Sugimoto has vehemently defended the stacked stone walls as central to his overall design, arguing that they bring an “ancient spirit to a modern garden.” He said “the pre-modern stone stacked walls will make the modern sculpture stand out,” and through contrast will highlight their modernity.

In a break from tradition during the pandemic, organizations submitting comments on the proposals weren’t allowed to speak directly to commissioners; instead Thomas Luebke, secretary of the CFA, read summaries of feedback.

Since the sculpture garden concept design was reviewed two years ago, there have been vocal opposition to many design elements, including the walls and pool and the general shift in the character of the design away from the Brutalist landscape that is in unison with the building. One over-arching concern is the lack of consideration of Lester Collins’ 1981 redesign of the garden, which has recently been deemed eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places; two years ago, when the CFA first reviewed the proposed re-design, it hadn’t been.

TCLF, Committee of 100, and Docomomo have all raised concerns throughout the Section 106 review process. In a comprehensive set of comments and questions sent to the Commission, TCLF stated: “We are supportive of the revitalization efforts but have serious concerns about two design interventions that would fundamentally alter Gordon Bunshaft’s artistic vision, which was respected by landscape architect Lester Collins.” Those interventions are the new pool and stacked stone walls.

They also raised concerns about how the Smithsonian will maintain the new, more complex pool; whether enough research has been done on the acoustic benefits of the proposed walls; and why a reconfigured central galley is even needed, given the expanded western gallery.

Furthermore, Elizabeth Meyer, FASLA, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia and former vice chairwoman of the CFA, sent a clarification regarding her past statements, arguing that they have been used by the Hirshhorn “without context, leading to the impression that I endorse the current designs. I do not.” She outlined that the “period of significance” in the National Register of Historic Places nomination shifted to 1981 in February 2020, after the CFA last reviewed the conceptual designs, and this should trigger an important reconsideration of the changes to Collins’ designs.

But there are also supporters. Laurie Olin, FASLA, founder of the landscape architecture OLIN, offered his opinions in an extensive memo that concludes “the project as currently proposed by Sugimoto, Harwell, et al, is far superior to what has existed adjacent to the Hirshhorn Museum and the National Mall until now, and if implemented will add a worthy layer to those that will inevitably remain embedded in the situation. The sculpture garden will become a sequential and combined work of Bunshaft, Collins, and Sugimoto, created through time, one far more interesting than any of them could have done alone.”

Perhaps only Olin’s comments were decisive in influencing the Commission, as the commissioners expressed an openness to what Sugimoto’s team proposed and didn’t call for sending the design back to the drawing board to reconsider Collins’ contributions to improving the original landscape.

Instead, the focus of the Commission was on how to rethink the accessibility, safety, and security of the sculpture garden and National Mall buildings and landscapes for the 21st century. And it seemed more than an hour of the conversation returned to these topics, as the commissioners repeatedly questioned what the experience would be like for a wheelchair user.

New Biden-appointed Commissioner Justin Garrett Moore, a transdisciplinary designer, urbanist, and program officer for the Humanities for Places program at the Andrew Mellon W. Foundation, who initiated the focus on accessibility, said the project was an “opportunity to explore what public landscapes should be and mean” for a contemporary Washington, D.C. We can expect to see a greater focus on moving universal design forward with this Commission.

Emerging Landscape Architecture Leaders Tackle “Disorienting Dilemmas” (Part 1)

Rio Piedras watershed / Edmundo “Mundy” Colón Izquierdo

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF)‘s most recent class of innovation and leadership fellows spent the past year “unearthing assumptions and trying to find a path forward” through the “disorienting dilemmas” facing the world, explained Cindy Sanders, FASLA, CEO of OLIN, in the kick-off off LAF’s now annual symposium. Each fellow seeks to generate “ethically-motivated societal change,” which in the process required “personal transformation.” Over two days, this year’s six fellows delved into the results of their independent research and leadership building efforts, which were each supported by a $25,000 grant from LAF.

Edmundo “Mundy” Colón Izquierdo: Taking on the Army Corps of Engineers in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an island of 3.2 million Americans. An unincorporated U.S. territory, it has a population larger than 20 U.S. states. The San Juan Estuary faces many challenges, including flooding, explained Edmundo “Mundy” Colón Izquierdo, Principal, ECo. Efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to channelize the Rio Piedras, which spreads south from San Juan into the heart of the island, have brought up a complex set of issues related to “politics, economics, and flood conveyance.” Along its course, the river is both “polluted and biodiverse, near and inaccessible, beautiful and dangerous.” As a response to extreme flooding from Hurricane Maria, the Army Corps has allocated $1.5 billion to transform 9.5 miles of a “soft, natural river into a concrete, high-velocity channel” and insert five new bridges into the river landscape. “This shows a total disregard for climate change and environmental science” and also for the Army Corps own new nature-based engineering approach, Colón Izquierdo argued.

Rio Piedras / Edmundo “Mundy” Colón Izquierdo

To better advocate for a nature-based approach that can make Puerto Rico more resilient to flooding, Colón Izquierdo has joined with scientists, advocates, and scholars who created Alianza Por La Cuenca del Rio Piedras, guided by the message “el rio esta vivo,” or “the river is alive.” While taking on the Army Corps, a complex bureaucracy, is analogous to “David attempting to defeat Goliath,” Colón Izquierdo believes the effort is critical because the design is “many decades behind in its conception.” In fact, the design is from 1992 and environmental impact statement from 1993; the project was resuscitated after Hurricane Maria decimated the island and exposed the vulnerability of so many living in Puerto Rico’s floodplains. By organizing design charettes and educating the public about nature-based options to improving the safety and health of the river, Colón Izquierdo seeks to build capacity, find leverage, and “get a seat at the table” — and perhaps save other rivers in Puerto Rico from the same fate.

Rio Piedras design charrette / Edmundo “Mundy” Colón Izquierdo

Andrea Johnson: Imagining New Forms of Community-owned Renewable Energy

Sunset Park, Brooklyn / Andrea Johnson

Bounded at one side by the Bronx-Queens Expressway, the neighborhood of Sunset Park in Brooklyn includes a jail, mechanic shops, warehouses, and vacant land, explained Andrea Johnson, a visiting assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. A maritime hub, the community is home to the Brooklyn Terminal, a massive industrial and commercial building that is now covered in a solar array cooperatively managed. This array got Johnson thinking about the hidden energy systems that comprise the community that can be re-imagined to provide “collective social value.”

When electricity demand in NYC increases, gas-driven peakers in Sunset Park start up, which contributes to the noxious air quality in the neighborhood, which includes mostly people of color. UPROSE, a community group, and other local organizations, have been trying to get the New York Power Authority to permanently close the peakers in favor of renewable energy, but the authority has only put them on stand by. Johnson said “decommissioning the peakers and replacing with publicly-owned renewable energy would lead to a more just and equitable energy system.” If decarbonization occurs through community-run renewable energy, then people in Sunset Park could benefit from electricity surges.

“There is a role for landscape architects here that needs to be seized. We can get ahead of the policy and innovate from how energy is perceived, stored, and used.” She analyzed and discovered 75 megawatts of energy could be generated on public rooftops in the community. “Back-up storage sources could then be spread across the public sphere.” Johnson and her students at CUNY have been imagining other new solutions that involve wind turbines, micro-grids, utility-scale batteries, a “gravity park” in which heavy blocks are raised to create kinetic energy that can be stored, and other systems that can both generate and store energy and serve as cleaner, more just forms of peakers.

Sunset Park renewable energy and storage concept / Andrea Johnson
Gravity Park concept / Andrea Johnson

Diego Bermúdez: A Comprehensive Plan for Protecting Bogotá’s Cultural Landscapes

The savanna of Bogotá / Diego Bermúdez

Bogotá, Colombia, is a city of 9 million people and continues to expand rapidly at its periphery. This sprawl threatens the historic Bogotá savanna, an important high-altitude wetland landscape. Diego Bermúdez, principal and partner, Bermúdez Arquitectos, in Bogotá, explained that 2,500 years ago, the area formed the vast floodplains of the Bogotá River and its many tributaries. Pre-Hispanic settlers, the indigenous Muisca people, who lived in small villages, built canals and berms to create flood-proof zones for growing food. “They lived amid 100,000 acres of wetlands and were amphibious people.”

When the Spanish arrived in the 17th century, they removed the Muisca and subdivided the land to scale up industrial food production. Farms were organized into grids, with protective canals, to increase yields. By the 1920s, the government created a water management district that was meant to preserve the irrigation systems. Those layers of water management history are now threatened by rampant sprawl and development into the savanna region. Bermúdez said the city’s population is expected to increase to 10.5 million in 2035 and reach upwards of 14 million by 2050.

Expected urban expansion into agricultural areas of Bogotá / Diego Bermúdez

To protect the savanna landscape, which grows 40 percent of the city’s food, Bermúdez proposes a strategy that first protects the historic canals, which are also hubs for biodiversity, including 200 species of birds. “Water management can be a tool for reimagining the future.” As he spent a year traveling to these agricultural communities and also meeting the developers who are urbanizing the area, he found “new hope,” because “people want to protect the water management system for flooding, biodiversity, and recreation.” Bermúdez has been working to connect the disparate players and layers of plans into a regional plan that can guide development away from the savanna, create protective zones for the historic agricultural landscapes, and further densify the core of Bogotá.

A new layered regional plan for Bogotá / Diego Bermúdez

Read part two on this year’s LAF fellows.

The Injustices of the South Shaped Olmsted’s Vision of Landscape Architecture

Map from the 1862 edition of Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom by Frederick Law Olmsted. / Courtesy of the PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at Cornell University

In the final decades of the 19th century, the new art of landscape architecture was born, in large part due to the efforts of Frederick Law Olmsted. This new profession offered “very specific responses” to the social, political, and environmental challenges of the time, argued Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, the John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, in a panel discussion organized as part of the year-long Olmsted 200 program. “Landscape architecture was radical during his time — a whole new field focused on social progress and reform.”

Before founding the profession of landscape architecture, Olmsted had been a reporter and superintendent of Central Park in New York City, a commission he had won with a design created with Calvert Vaux. Waldheim argued that the 1857 economic shock was a “hinge point” that created demand for a “whole new set of practices, focused on social justice, equity, and public reform.” Economic change created the conditions for landscape architecture.

According to John Stauffer, the Sumner R. and Marshall S. Kates professor of English and African and African American studies at Harvard, Olmsted was long interested in social reform, particularly in the South, where he traveled as a reporter for The New York Daily Times, which later became The New York Times. His reporting formed the basis of three books, which were later packaged in a single, more staunchly abolitionist book on the eve of the Civil War: The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveler’s Observations on Cotton And Slavery in the American Slave States, 1853-1861. “As a writer focused on slavery, he illuminated the South for the North,” Stauffer said. And his writings has enormous political impact: “Olmsted’s books convinced England to not recognize the Confederacy.”

Other than the first-person narratives by slaves in the South, Olmsted’s writings are the most “detailed and accurate slave narratives” available, Stauffer contends. While Olmsted wasn’t an abolitionist at least at first, he “gradually become anti-slavery.”

His early focus was on “improving the land, self, and society — and he championed restoration and regeneration.” He believed American regeneration required infrastructure, which in turn required broad public support and engagement with communities. He wanted to see the South and the rest of the country build public and democratically accessible canals, roads, town squares, parks, schools, and libraries.

While town squares and parks “partially existed in the South,” he found through his travels there were “very few roads and schools, and no restaurants or libraries.” The South had no public realm; it was all private land in the form of massive plantations. Through his depictions in his articles and books, he subtly spoke out about life on southern plantations and slavery.

He painted a portrait of plantations as “primitives places” where everyone working there was “mostly illiterate.” He saw plantations as small universes upon themselves, feudal societies, where the plantation owner was “judge and executioner.” He was horrified by the southern criminal system in which no slave was allowed to testify. His time living on plantations drove him to call for “public infrastructure for a democratic community.”

In the South, capital was invested in private land and human bodies and little in anything else. “Olmsted saw frontier conditions everywhere, dilapidation and carelessness.” While Southern romantic visions of an immaculate white house in a plantation were widespread, he found the reality was “less than 1 percent of the population were wealthy white planters; the rest lived in rude dwellings.” No aesthetic improvements were made for the non-elites, which created a “sense of backwardness” in the whole society.

Olmsted was anti-slavery, but he also wrote statements that are understood to be racist. While in his reporting he sought to be balanced — reporting both the perspective of the white landowner and the slave — he made comments such as “some slaves prefer being slaves.” But in his writings, he was also sympathetic to Black yeoman and subsistence farmers, Stauffer said.

Olmsted was a reformer in political, aesthetic, cultural, intellectual, and material senses. “His reform vision took an aesthetic form” in the design of a system of public parks and boulevards in so many cities. “Central Park is how he would have liked to improve the South, with all classes mixing.” However, it’s important to recognize that the creation of Central Park involved the displacement of Seneca Village, a Black middle class community, by the New York City government.

According to Sara Zewde, assistant professor in the practice of landscape architecture at Harvard University and founder of Studio Zewde, Olmsted forged the new field of landscape architecture as a way to “triangulate between his interests in farming, law, and politics.” There was no existing profession that brought all his interests together. And while the prevailing narrative about Olmsted is that he was first a journalist and then pivoted to become landscape architect, Zewde sees a “linearity in these interests.”

At the start of the Civil War, Olmsted was working on the same social reform and anti-slavery causes through his writings, advocacy, and design projects. “If we look chronologically at his works, he went back and forth between travel, advocacy, and landscape architecture practice. They were all very much part of the same project.”

For Zewde, a landscape architect, educator, and “Black woman raised in the South,” this is perhaps Olmsted’s most important legacy to the field of landscape architecture — he demonstrated its potential to work at multiple scales and in multiple formats, through writing, advocacy, and design.

With the beginning of the Civil War, he thought the institution of slavery was “corrosive” on southern society. “People who owned slaves had lost the ability to investment in themselves or their society. The health of soils, the landscape, and economy were all skewed. There was no innovation or culture, art, or civic ground.” Leaving Central Park while it’s still being constructed to re-write his articles for Cotton Kingdom is the “clearest articulation of how singular his interests are,” Zewde argued.

He also produced a spatial analysis of the Cotton Kingdom, mapping the concentration of enslaved people and the health of each southern state economy in order to show the “inverse relationship between ecological health and the distribution of resources and slavery.”

In 2013, Zewde followed the path of Olmsted’s journeys through the South to better understand his contribution to landscape-scale thinking. Retracing his steps, Zewde reached the conclusion that the socio-economic conditions Olmsted witnessed remain persistent 165 years later, but the physical conditions have changed. The landscapes of slavery have been “recast, obscured, and erased.”

Retracing Olmsted’s steps in the South / Sara Zewde
Retracing Olmsted’s steps in the South / Sara Zewde
Retracing Olmsted’s steps in the South / Sara Zewde
Retracing Olmsted’s steps in the South / Sara Zewde
Retracing Olmsted’s steps in the South / Sara Zewde

Zewde wondered what Olmsted would think of landscape architecture being “used as a tool or weapon to untell stories.” For example, visiting Whole Field Square in Savannah, Georgia, Olmsted “took great care in transcribing the names on headstones in an African burial ground. He was very descriptive and expository.” But while visiting the site, Zewde found “no sign or marker of the existence of what he found.” Landscape architecture had recast the story of the place. Talking to visitors, “everyone had no idea what Olmsted witnessed or that were Black bodies buried there. The headstones had been removed to another part of the city, the ‘other side of the tracks.'”

Whole Field Square, Savannah, Georgia / Sara Zewde

Olmsted advocated for how the profession should be used — in the same tradition as his vision for reform. “Olmsted offered a methodological proposition — a multi-scalar approach looking at macro-ecologies and economies, down to the level of social interaction.” Following his model, landscape architecture is as focused on the “national state of democracy as what that means for a path in the park.”

In the Q&A, Waldheim noted that the idea of site design and politics as somehow in opposition is false. For Olmsted, “they were one in the same.”

For example, Stauffer noted that Olmsted was deeply suspicious of “privatized things,” like he found everywhere in the South. “He criticized that he couldn’t find a hotel room or restaurant anywhere on his travels.” For him, to improve a “community aesthetically and culturally was also political.”

While he isn’t sure Olmsted read Frederick Douglass’ writings on aesthetics and reform, he believed Olmsted, like Douglass, thought that “true art breaks down racial barriers because it highlights the essential equality of all people. Douglass’ aesthetic vision was: within unity, there is diversity, and within diversity, there is unity.” The poet Walt Whitman had a similar sentiment with “every blade of grass. Out of many one. Every human being is different, but equal despite differences.”

Zewde said in his personal letters Olmsted was much more “forthcoming and explicit” about his objections to slavery, but in his public writings was “more subversive in order to not lose his southern audience.”

His writings would describe the aesthetic qualities of the land, such as the light at dusk, which was then “paired with a shocking description of torture of a slave.” His writings were also “peppered with compelling conversations with enslaved people,” asking them what is most important to them. He relayed their “striving for life” amid details of the landscape. The “proposition is quite profound” — life and freedom are also about aesthetics. “The cultural and aesthetic framing of life makes it worth living.”

Speaking to one enslaved person, Olmsted asks them what they hope for if they became free. They said they wish to “have a home, plot of land, and a wife, to work the land.” Zewde believes this was a notable moment for Olmsted, who then carried these ideas back to New York and his future work creating public spaces.

The entire hour-long session posted by Olmsted 200 can also be watched below:

This Olmsted 200 program was co-sponsored and co-organized by ASLA and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

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

Art in its nature state: visible invisible in Arkansas / Phoebe Lickwar, via Sightlines

Edible Cities: Landscape Architect Phoebe Lickwar on Post-pandemic Public Spaces and Urban Agriculture — 06/14/21, Sightlines
“Landscape architect Phoebe Lickwar thinks about how more food could be grown within cities — how agriculture should be a part of contemporary urban infrastructure. Sure, that means things like more community gardens where people can grow their own food. But even the practice of community gardens needs significant expansion and change.”

Cornelia Oberlander, a Farsighted Landscape Architect, Dies at 99 — 06/09/21, The New York Times
“Her acclaimed modernist but naturalist designs recognized the fragility of the climate and the social effects of parks and playgrounds.”

When Monuments Go Bad — 06/08/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“The Chicago Monuments Project is leading a city-wide dialogue in search of ways to resolve its landscape of problematic statues, and make room for a new, different kind of public memorial.”

Explore the Modernist Landscapes of Washington, D.C., with This New Illustrated Guide — 06/08/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Now, D.C.’s modernist landscapes are taking center stage with a new illustrated guide produced by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) in partnership with the National Park Service. Titled D.C. Modernism, the handheld device-optimized, GPS-enabled city guide is the 18th of its kind to be produced by TCLF as part of the What’s Out There series.”

With New Law, Las Vegas Water Agency Bets on ‘Aggressive Municipal Water Conservation Measure’ to Remove Decorative Turf, Conserve Colorado River Supply — 06/08/21, The Nevada Independent
“Over the past two decades, Lake Mead, which holds nearly all of Las Vegas’ water, has dropped more than 100 feet amid drought and overuse. In response, federal regulators expect to declare the first-ever shortage for the Colorado River next year, triggering cuts to Arizona and Nevada’s allocations.”

Lower Merion Suddenly Has a Walkable Riverfront, Thanks to Pencoyd Landing Development — 06/07/21, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“By incorporating bits and pieces from the ironworks into the design, the project becomes more than just another generic development. History is made visible in the steel outline of the former complex.”

Conversations with Olmsted: His Visions for Reform

Map from the 1862 edition of Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom by Frederick Law Olmsted. / Courtesy of the PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at Cornell University

Social justice, equity, and reform are not new topics for landscape architecture — rather, they are at its origin. Frederick Law Olmsted’s prominent role in shaping public opinion on social reform in the period leading up to and during the Civil War still impacts practice today.

As part of Olmsted 200, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) will host a free online conversation on May 18 that re-centers the way we tell the story of Olmsted’s work and the origins of landscape architecture.

A group of scholars from Harvard University — Sara Zewde, founding principal, Studio Zewde, and assistant professor, Graduate School of Design; John Stauffer, professor of English and African and African American Studies; and Charles Waldheim, Hon. ASLA, John E. Irving professor of landscape architecture and director of the office for urbanization, Graduate School of Design — will delve into a few key areas.

The speakers will outline the conditions of 19th century cities, including intense rural-to-urban migration, industrialization, and immigration, and how these conditions impacted the discipline of landscape architecture. They will explore how — through his writing — Olmsted confronted the institution of slavery and the cotton economy.

Bringing Olmsted into the present, Zewde, Stauffer, and Waldheim will explore how Olmsted’s values and advocacy for social reform translate to today’s urban and cultural challenges. And they will also discuss how landscape architecture, from its inception, aimed to address societal and environmental conditions through design — and how racial equity and environmental justice issues continue to shape what landscape architects design today.

Conversations with Olmsted: His Visions for Reform is free and will be hosted virtually on May 18 at 3pm EST.

Please register today.

For landscape architects: this webinar will provide 1.0 PDH (LA CES/HSW).

Conversations with Olmsted is the first in a series of Olmsted 200 programs. Olmsted 200 is a national celebration spearheaded by a coalition of national organizations marking Frederick Law Olmsted’s bicentennial birthday on April 26, 2022.

Help us preserve and share Olmsted’s legacy by visiting Olmsted200.org, subscribing to the Olmsted Insider newsletter, and following Olmsted 200 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

A Vision for Truly Inclusive Public Spaces Rooted in Olmsted’s Core Values

Reimagining Frederick Law Olmsted’s 527-acre Franklin Park in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain neighborhoods as an inclusive and accessible “country park” in the city. ASLA 2020 Student General Design Honor Award. Breaking Barriers. Xiao (Phoebe) Cheng, Student ASLA. Faculty Advisors: Gina Ford, FASLA; Maggie Hansen, University of Texas at Austin

By Roxanne Blackwell, Jared Green, and Lisa J. Jennings

Olmsted was committed to democratic access to public space, which is one of the foundations of inclusion. Communities can re-imagine this core value to plan and design more inclusive places.

Frederick Law Olmsted believed universal access to nature and beauty in designed landscapes would help elevate community health and in turn social discourse. He was guided by the belief that public spaces should be accessible and inclusive. He believed public parks would serve as a democratizing force, bringing many communities together to forge a new American society.

In the lead-up to the Civil War, Olmsted was a political reporter who explored the slave states of the South and wrote influential pieces on what he experienced for The New York Daily Times and in a series of books. During his southern journey, Olmsted witnessed the impact of African and African-American slaves on the American landscape.

According to Austin Allen, ASLA, PhD, associate professor of landscape architecture emeritus at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, “Olmsted became more aware of the way African and African American slaves were shaping the American landscape.” Slaves had an “untold and impactful influence” on Olmsted’s early conception of American landscape architecture.

However, when Olmsted began his career as a landscape architect with the commission to plan and design Central Park in New York City, he also advocated for parks to have a homogenizing and “civilizing” influence on whom he described in his writings as “Negroes,” “immigrants,” and “the working class.” In his view, parks would elevate these groups by enabling them to participate in public spaces with white Americans, whom he considered to be the upper classes even after the Civil War. Classes would converge towards a particular vision of how society should exist, one set by white elites.

As contemporary American communities plan and design networks of public parks that serve as common ground for an increasingly diverse society, it is important to maintain Olmsted’s core values – democratic access to public spaces – but to also imagine what true inclusion in public spaces looks and feels like for all communities.

For public spaces to be truly inclusive and accessible, they must be comfortable for all visitors. This can only happen if diverse communities have the opportunity to guide the planning and design process; see their identities, ideas, and cultures reflected in designed spaces; and enjoy these spaces in comfort and safety.

Public spaces must also be designed for users of all abilities. Everyone navigates the built environment differently, with abilities changing across a person’s lifespan. The population of people with physical, auditory, or visual disabilities, autism or neurodevelopmental and/or intellectual disabilities, or neurocognitive disorders will face greater challenges navigating public spaces until they are fully included in the planning and design process.

Public spaces cannot be planned and designed as a homogenizing force that seeks to elevate some of us towards one version of an ideal society. Parks should not erase histories or voices to fit a single narrative. Instead, they must be more nuanced places where multiple stories can be told; where gender, racial, ethnic, and other forms of diversity can be celebrated; where racial and class reconciliation can be facilitated; where everyone has a safe connection to a messier but more real shared history and culture.

Roxanne Blackwell, Hon. ASLA, is Director of Federal Government Affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Jared Green is editor of THE DIRT at ASLA. Lisa J. Jennings is Manager, Career Discovery and Diversity at ASLA.

This article was re-posted from Olmsted 200, the celebration of the bicentennial of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth. To get involved, visit their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and follow Olmsted 200 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Landscape Architecture in the News Highlights (April 16-30)

The Nation’s Capital Welcomes Its Newest Memorial, Dedicated to American World War I Troops — 04/30/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The proposal, designed by architect Joe Weishaar with sculptor Sabin Howard, grew into a collaboration with architects-of-record GWWO and the Philadelphia-based David Rubin Land Collective as landscape architect, resulting in the new memorial through years of iterative agency review and adjustment.”

Activists Want to Restore Tampa’s Kiley Garden, Once a Landscape Marvel — 04/29/21, Tampa Bay Times
“A downtown resident and photographer who uses Kiley Garden for shoots, Stehlik is on a mission to add shade to the 4 1/2-acre checkerboard of grass and concrete located next to the Rivergate Tower at 400 N. Ashley Dr.”

The Weitzman School of Design Will Ponder the Fate of a Fragile Planet at the Venice Architecture Biennale — 04/27/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Richard Weller, professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and co-executive director of Penn’s Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology, will present three new works as part of the As One Planet exhibition at the Central Pavilion at the Giardini.”

Modi’s Sprawling Delhi Makeover Fuels Anger in Virus-hit India — 04/26/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“Current plans suggest that many open spaces around India Gate that are visited by thousands daily may no longer be accessible to the public. ‘We common mortals will have no reason to go there, as government offices replace the quiet spaces of art, history, performance, leisure,’ Narayani Gupta, a Delhi-based historian said.”

Can City-owned Vacant Lots Fill the Need for Park Equity in Houston? — 04/21/21, Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research
“The residents of University Village in Greater Third Ward made a very strong case for turning a vacant lot into a pocket park in their neighborhood — and the city listened.”

Midtown’s Highway-capping Park Boosters Release New Video, Continue Outreach — 04/21/21, Urbanize Atlanta
“The goal of the park’s green elements is to recapture the character of the land, as it was in the late 1800s, when Georgia Tech was a single building, Midtown just a series of stately homes along Peachtree Street, and the rolling landscape still bucolic, with Tanyard Creek slicing through.”

To Create a Better California, These Landscape Architects Design Inclusive Public Spaces for All — 04/20/21, University of Southern California News
“The Landscape Justice Initiative unites USC students and faculty with community organizations to tackle big social and environmental challenges in Los Angeles and beyond.”