Close Encounters with Water

For some inventive landscape architects and architects in Europe, water bodies have presented an opportunity to create memorable, immersive experiences for the public. Instead of creating bridges that traverse lakes and moats, these projects bring cyclists and pedestrians through the water, creating seamless access to nature preserves and historic sites.

Limburg, Belgium, which is in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, has developed 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) of bicycle trails, which attract two million cyclists annually. The area is known in Europe as a “bicycling paradise,” according to the Limburg tourism bureau.

In De Wijers, a vast 1,730 acre (700 hectare) nature preserve comprised of lakes, there were areas difficult to reach for cyclists through existing trails. To improve access to Bokrijk, which includes a 19th-century castle, open-air museum, and arboretum set within the nature preserve, landscape architecture firm Burolandschap and architecture firm Lens°ass Architecten created an ingenious path — Cycling Through Water, which cuts directly through one of the lakes.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans
Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

The concrete-lined path is 695 feet (212 meters) long and nearly 10 feet (3 meters) wide, and its top is designed to be level with the surrounding lake, creating an infinity effect from the distance. Burolandschap states that since the path opened in 2018, more than 300,000 cyclists have used it.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

To anticipate and address concerns raised about carving the path through a nature preserve, the city of Limburg paired the project with an expansive restoration and conservation effort in the surrounding lake district, which included the development of new lakes. Burolandschap found that the project resulted in “improvements of the water quality and a significant increase in the habitat of amphibians.”

Cycling Through Water / Burolandschap

The dikes were remodeled, which creates “purer water” in the lakes. And below the concrete path, Burolandschap created an amphibian crossing of sorts that lets the animals move to other areas of the lake.

The Limburg tourism bureau said Cycling Through Water is increasing tourism to Bokrijk in a safe and sustainable way. The base of the cycling path is constructed with slip-resistant tiles, which work “even when there is frost.” The path also extends car-free access to the castle and its surrounding sites, further privileging the bicycle, a very low-carbon form of transportation.

Cycling Through Water / © luc dalemans

Another recent project designed for pedestrians similarly cuts through water in dramatic fashion. Moses Bridge in Halsteren, The Netherlands by RO&AD Architecten is a path through the West Brabant Water line, a defensive system from the 17th century made up of fortresses and moats.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

To help pedestrians reach Fort de Roovere, a recently restored fortress, RO&AD Architecten designed a low-impact “invisible bridge” made of wood and waterproofed with EPMD foil.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

“The bridge lies like a trench in the fortress and the moat, shaped to blend in with the outlines of the landscape,” RO&AD states.

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

The top of the bridge meets the actual water line, so the structure can’t be seen from a distance and doesn’t mar the view of the historic landscape. But “when you get closer, the fortress opens up to you through a narrow trench. You can then walk up to its gates like Moses on the water.”

Moses Bridge / RO&AD Architecten

A New Era for Rothko’s Sacred Space

The Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

During this time, when people especially need places of solace and peace, the re-opening of our sanctuaries seem particularly important. After a comprehensive restoration and expansion, the Rothko Chapel, a non-denominational sacred space in Houston, Texas, has re-opened on a limited basis. Much of the revitalization effort, which encompasses the building and landscape, helps to more fully realize the vision of Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko and the Chapel’s founders, John and Dominique de Menil.

The skylight in the original Chapel, which was designed by architect Gene Aubrey in 1971, has been reconceived, letting more light pour onto the 14 deep, dark, textured Rothko paintings. The landscape surrounding the building has been re-imagined to lead visitors on a more meaningful journey from the street to the artworks. And a new visitor center helps welcome and orient visitors.

The Rothko Chapel is a spiritual center open to those with “any background, any religion, any faith, or no faith,” explains Christopher Rothko, the son of Mark Rothko and chairman of the board of the organization that runs the Chapel.

In an introductory video, he explains how his father, who created some of the world’s most enduring artworks, had always wanted to create a space “where he could set the tone and have direct interaction” with the audience. When the Chapel’s founders, the de Menils, reached out to him, it was a “dream commission.”

Rothko the senior envisioned the 14 paintings and building together as one work of art. Architect Philip Johnson was first engaged to create the building, but Rothko and Johnson didn’t see eye to eye. Architect Howard Barnstone was then hired, but fell ill during the process. Gene Aubrey was the final architect to complete the work, which is in the form of an octagon, in reference to the spaces in a Greek orthodox cross. Rothko would never see its completion. After years of struggling with depression, he killed himself in February 1970, months before before the Chapel’s opening.

According to his son Christopher, Rothko spent his career searching for a “universal language” in art. Before the pandemic, the Chapel attracted some 80,000 visitors annually, some making pilgrimages from around the country and world. So in this sense, Rothko succeeded in achieving his goal with these enveloping, meditative panels, which are considered among his masterpieces.

The Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

To realize the vision of Rothko and the Menils, the Rothko Chapel uses its 2-acre campus and powerful art to create interfaith understanding and champion human rights. Since 1971, the Chapel has hosted 5,000 programs on religion, meditation, and spiritual healing, and current global issues.

The renovation of the Chapel was overseen by Architecture Research Office along with lighting designers at George Sexton Associates. The skylight, lighting design, and entryway into the chapel were redesigned to heighten the visual impact of the paintings. With a new central skylight, daylight now permeates the interior, which is what Rothko originally intended.

The Rothko Chapel redesigned skylight / Elizabeth Felicella

Before, visitors would gather at the Chapel’s vestibule, crowding the experience. The new Suzanne Deal Booth Welcome House to the north of the Chapel helps relieve pressure on the Chapel, creating ample space for groups and guided tours to meet, and includes an expanded gift shop and bookstore.

New Welcome House at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The landscape has been clarified and improved by Nelson Byrd Woltz | Landscape Architects. The firm writes that the existing landscape is structured along a primary axis, which is defined by three elements: “the irregular octagonal brick Chapel, a reflecting pool, and Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk that is sited at the far end of the pool from the Chapel.” These elements represent art, spirituality, and justice, respectively — justice because Barnett Newman’s piece is dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Broken Obelisk by Barnett Newman at The Rothko Chapel / Paul Hester

NBW bordered the reflecting pool’s western and southern edges with a new screen of 32 evergreen Savannah holly (Ilex x attenuata ‘Savannah’) hedges, which they say “refocuses attention on the central axis of the campus.”

Lanie McKinnon, ASLA, a landscape architect with the firm, goes into greater detail about their efforts in the public space surrounding the pool: “The plaza space was redesigned to create a larger and more contiguous space between the Chapel and Broken Obelisk. The new plaza space features exposed aggregate concrete reminiscent of the original concrete. The new Ilex hedge was installed, offset from the plaza, to open the edges of the gathering space and include new custom benches that, through their thick wood seats, echo the original benches within the Chapel.”

The landscape architects also reworked the “arrival sequence” that guides visitors from the street to the sacred heart of the campus — the 14 paintings. The path moves visitors through a series of “calm, quiet, shaded landscape rooms.”

Shady paths at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The firm explains: “these outdoor chambers provide visitors the time and space to physically and mentally prepare first for Broken Obelisk, then the Chapel, and finally Mark Rothko’s paintings. The sequence is calibrated to allow the eye to continually scale down while providing increasing shade in anticipation of the transition from the usually bright Texas sunlight to the Chapel’s interior. In reverse sequence, exiting the Chapel moves visitors through a range of spaces with tree-filtered views of the campus, allowing for quiet reflection in preparation for re-engaging with the city.”

A landscape room at the Rothko Chapel / Paul Hester

NBW planted some 300 river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) trees in rows along the edges of the landscaped rooms to the west and south of the Chapel, which are used for yoga, the annual summer solstice labyrinth, and other musical events.

McKinnon told us: “the birches balance the larger gathering spaces with more intimate seating spaces. The idea was to create outdoor space for Chapel visitors to reflect before or after their journey.” All the new trees, along with a sub-grade detention system, help the campus better manage stormwater.

A landscape room at the Rothko Chapel / Elizabeth Felicella

The total revitalization plan includes some $30 million in projects. A planned second phase will include a new administration and archive building, a renovated and relocated guest house, a meditation garden, and a program center with outdoor plaza. The program center will become the new home for the events the Chapel organizes each year.

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

ASLA 2017 Professional General Design Honor Award. Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas / Liane Rochelle Photography

Florida Sees Signals of a Climate-Driven Housing Crisis — 10/12/20, The New York Times
“Home sales in areas most vulnerable to sea-level rise began falling around 2013, researchers found. Now, prices are following a similar downward path.”

Manchester Follows Asia’s Lead in Designing Age-friendly Cities — 10/05/20, CityMonitor
“Perhaps no UK city is better equipped to respond to its changing demographics than Manchester, where one third of the population will be 50 or older by 2040.”

Snøhetta, OJB Landscape Architecture Top Winners of 2020 National Design Awards — 10/02/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Winner OJB Landscape Architecture, a landscape architecture and urban planning practice that maintains offices in San Diego, Boston, Houston, Dallas, and Philadelphia, released a statement where founder Jim Burnett noted: ‘I believe landscape has the power to transform cities and strengthen communities, and that now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to address issues of access, equity, and health in our shared public spaces.'”

Imagine a Transcontinental Network of Protected Bike Paths — 10/02/20, Fast Company
“Under an elevated rail line in Miami, a new park will open this fall with a 10-mile path dedicated to walking and biking. It’s an infrastructure improvement for Miami cyclists, but it’s also part of a larger, interstate network of trails that will eventually make it possible to ride from Florida to Maine with little interaction with cars.”

Landslide 2020 Spotlights Women-designed Landscapes and the Threats That They Face — 10/01/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“This year, to mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, each of the dozen threatened landscapes (two containing multiple sites) were created, designed, tended to, and championed by women including a multitude of female landscape architects and designers, many of them pioneering in the field and some unsung and overlooked.”

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.”

Last Chance to Protect Greater Chaco from Oil and Gas Drilling

Chaco Culture National Historic Park / Wikipedia

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA

September may mark the end of the latest efforts to protect the Chaco Culture National Historical Park against encroaching oil and gas production. A draft resource management plan for the area, which was released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) earlier this year, fails to guarantee a 10-mile protective zone in lands bordering the park. The plan is open for public comment until September 25.

During a recent webinar organized by US/ICOMOS, Ernie Atencio, the southwest regional director of the National Parks Conversation Association, stated that “this really could be our last chance to save one of the most important cultural landscapes in the US.”

Allowing development as close as possible to the park depreciates the site’s beauty and integrity as world heritage. More gravely, it also introduces health and safety risks to vulnerable Pueblo and Navajo communities while further cleaving them from their sacred homelands. These lands include the Greater Chaco region in the northwestern corner of present-day New Mexico and the historic national park, which is also recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site for its outstanding Puebloan cultural complex.

Opening oil and gas leasing next to the national park would mar the landscape with roads, well pads, pumpjacks, and processing facilities. Oil extraction would cause air and noise pollution and prompt methane to leak from the ground. Bright lights and nighttime flares would taint its International Dark Sky Place designation. Already, 92 percent of the BLM surface lands in the district (among the state’s “most scenic,” according to the BLM) are leased and subjected to these damages.

Existing oil and gas operations scar the Greater Chaco landscape / Archaeology Southwest

The Chaco cultural sites are significant to the Navajo Nation and Puebloan peoples. “I myself have gone on pilgrimages during my time in office and throughout my lifetime to these sacred sites,” says Kurt Riley, former governor of the Pueblo of Acoma. But sometimes, in order to visit these places, Riley and other tribal members must receive permission from the BLM or the US Forest Service.

The existing protection afforded by both UNESCO and the National Park Service is critical to the area’s preservation, but it far from encompasses all sacred sites. The ancient Puebloan peoples occupied territories stretching across the American Southwest, and evidence of their presence can be seen today at Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde National Park, and Bear’s Ears National Monument. Sacred sites dot the landscapes in between; over 300 occupy the Chaco landscape alone.

Riley reiterates the words of an Acoma lawyer: “All archaeological sites are sacred, but not all sacred sites are archaeological.” Any additional protections, like the 10-mile buffer around the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, contribute to preserving a network of sites largely overrun by centuries of settler colonialism.

Significant sites of the Chaco World / Archaeology Southwest

Riley and Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, argue that the Trump administration has exercised an energy dominance policy at the expense of cultural, environmental, and human health concerns. In the Chaco area, projects such as resource management plans and environmental impact statements have been railroaded forward in Washington, DC, without appropriate stakeholder consultation. Frequently, local directives from, for instance, state BLM actors, are overridden. Processes that previously involved tribal members have been fast-tracked and executed out of usual sequence, catching the tribal authorities off guard. The tribes do not have the staff or legal or financial resources to respond to the onslaught of quarterly land sales.

Oil and gas drilling surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historic Park / Archaeology Southwest

The National Parks Conservation Association and its partners — including Pueblo and Navajo groups as well as numerous conservation and preservation organizations — had been waiting years for the BLM’s draft plan for the Chaco region. At the end of February, BLM finally released it.

According to the groups opposed to the plan, the draft fails to evaluate health and safety effects of the proposed drilling. It does not include assessments from federally funded cultural resource studies. It violates numerous federal environmental and preservation laws. And just when BLM disseminated it, Covid-19 was beginning to creep across the US.

The virus especially devastated Navajo Nation and Pueblo communities near Chaco, and their focus turned inward to protecting their health. Concurrently, BLM arranged a host of virtual meetings as public engagement. For tribal leaders dealing with unreliable Internet access and cell service and a public health crisis, these already culturally insensitive meetings were unrealistic. According to Atencio, the BLM efforts amounted to “a farce of public participation.”

After months of silence and just before the comment period ended, Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt extended the comment deadline until September 25. Stakeholder requests to pause the process until the end of the pandemic were ignored.

Local tribes and others are asking for a version of the plan that retains the 10-mile protection area. “But we really feel that the plan is so deficient in its analysis of the impacts that BLM needs to revise the entire thing,” said Atencio.

President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum in early September discontinuing new offshore oil and gas development around Florida, citing that the state’s residents “just don’t want it.” Critics argue this is an another example of discriminatory prioritization by the Trump administration that implicitly ranks the wants of different groups of people.

Through public outcry, perhaps it too can be made clear that the people of the greater Chaco region do not want oil and gas in their landscape either.

Submit your comments to the BLM directly or via Protect Chaco or the National Parks Conservation Association by September 25.

This guest post is by Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, with Hood Design Studio and co-editor of the forthcoming book Black Landscapes Matter.

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

White House Rose Garden / Wikipedia

Melania Trump’s Rose Garden Redo Draws Criticism, But It’s Long Overdue — 07/28/20, The Washington Post
“The cost of the project, reportedly paid for with private donations, was not disclosed but will not be insignificant, and it entails the removal and replacement of most of the existing plantings as well as the lawn.”

Trump Repeals Rule Meant to Integrate Neighborhoods, Further Stoking Racial Divisions in Campaign — 07/23/20, The Los Angeles Times
“The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it would scrap a regulation known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which was implemented by President Obama in an attempt to promote more integrated communities. Under the rule, cities receiving some federal housing aid had to develop plans to address patterns of segregation or risk losing money.”

SWA Group Tapped for Freedom Park Master Plan in Atlanta — 07/20/20, The Architects’s Newspaper
“Linear and lined with both temporary and permanent public art installations, the cruciform Freedom Park—more of a greenway-cum-sculpture park than anything—encompasses over 200 acres of land that links downtown Atlanta with a patchwork of historic neighborhoods on the city’s east side. ”

Bay Area of 2050 Will Be More Crowded — Planners Want to Make It More Equitable, Too — 07/20/20, The San Francisco Chronicle
“For the first time, the Bay Area’s largest planning agencies have mapped what the region might look like in 2050 — and it’s a place where new jobs and housing increasingly migrate to the South Bay.”

The A.D.A. at 30: Beyond the Law’s Promise — 07/20/20, The New York Times
“This series explores how the Americans With Disabilities Act has shaped modern life for people with disabilities in the 30 years since it was passed.”

Biden’s Climate Plan Puts Inequality and Jobs on Par with CO2 — 07/18/20, Bloomberg
“When Joe Biden released his climate plan last week, the Democratic candidate for president emphasized one overarching goal—and it wasn’t the reduction of greenhouse gases. Instead, he unequivocally linked broad climate action to employment.”

Interview with Patricia O’Donnell on Revitalizing Cultural Landscapes

Patricia O’Donnell / Heritage Landscapes, LLC

Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA, AICP, Fellow, US/ICOMOS, is founder of Heritage Landscapes LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects and Planners, winner of the ASLA 2019 Firm Award. Her works and contributions sustain and revitalize our shared commons of public historic landscapes and advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2030 Agenda, and the New Urban Agenda.

Interview conducted at the ASLA 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego.

Over your career, you’ve worked on more than 500 cultural landscape projects. You have highlighted Pittsburgh’s $124 million investment in revitalizing its public spaces, such as the Mid-Century Modern Mellon Square, which you restored, as a model. What does Pittsburgh know that perhaps other cities need to learn?

In the 19th century, Pittsburgh had a vision of setting aside major green spaces in order to shape the city. Neighborhoods grew up around the green spaces. Since Pittsburgh is still today a neighborhood-based city, everyone cares deeply about their green assets. Pittsburgh has a history of understanding the value of parks.

Pittsburgh looked at their historic parks and said, “This has value for the city.” The revitalization effort was initiated by the very bright Meg Cheever, a lawyer by education and a publicist by application who founded the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. She knew she needed to grab attention so she built up the Conservancy as a real partner to the city. She was very savvy about not having an adversarial relationship with the city, instead creating a true partnership. We’ve worked in a number of conservancies, and that coin can flip both ways. The first thing is you need to be a partner; the second thing is you have got to recognize value.

When I started my firm in the late-80s, we did a project in Gilford, Connecticut. I told them there are four groups of tools for improving the public realm: community engagement, plans or advisory tools, law or regulation, and finance. As landscape architects, we’re good at community and planning, not necessarily so good at legislation or finance. If we recognize those are the four things we need, we can figure out who to partner with and what skill sets and mindsets are needed to move forward.

Pittsburgh started with its 19th century legacy. They had three big parks: one that was gifted to the city in the early 20th century by Henry Clay Frick; Mary Shenley’s property, which the city had bought and then added to Shenley Park; and Highland Park, which was around a reservoir and then grew into a park. So each park had a different vector. Then, they focused on the Mid-Century Modern pieces: The Point and Mellon Square, which were the two iconic public spaces built in the 50s and part of the first Pittsburgh Renaissance. Those spaces became elements of a national model for urban renewal. They knocked down 25 percent of the core of the city in a 10-year period and rebuilt it.

Restored Mellon Square, Pittsburgh, originally designed by John O. Simonds / Ed Massery
Restored Mellon Square, Pittsburgh, originally designed by John O. Simonds / Jeremy Marshall

Now there’s good and bad there. There was some environmental injustice and other problems, but they also renewed the core of the city and rebranded Pittsburgh. A number of other cities followed that path of renewal. (We called it urban renewal but often it was urban destruction). But the initiative worked for Pittsburgh. They were able to lift up what was a gritty steel city where industrial workers had to bring a minimum of two shirts to work because the air quality was so bad.

Your firm, Heritage Landscapes, partnered with HOK on the restoration of the National Mall in Washington D.C. What was involved in that process?

We were asked by the National Park Service (NPS) to track the history of Mall, which they framed as from L’Enfant’s 1792 plan to the present. The NPS asked us to framed it by the plans, but the plans did not reflect what the Mall actually was. We carried out this project as part of a NEPA compliance process.

Through a mapping effort, we overlaid all the soil disturbance over time — deep subsurface, shallow subsurface, surface — in CAD and made this very fun color map that showed probably a couple of teaspoons of the Mall were not altered over time. While we met NEPA compliance, we also now had the background, understood what the design was, and how the design of the Mall evolved to what we love today.

That evolution happened because of the strength of the personality and the stature of Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.. He served on the McMillan Commission, the Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), and what is now called the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (NCPC). He persuaded the NPS to do the plan for the Mall. The linear quality of the green panels was key.

We focused the HOK team on getting the grading right. The Mall had been slightly domed and tipped northward because the Tiber Creek and the Washington Canal — the drainage — were to the north. The Capitol, the White House and the Smithsonian were set on three hills, and so the Mall, the space in between, was kind of mushy. The new shape of the Mall needed to respond to that topography. The original lawn panels had a vertical curve to help drainage.

The NPS wanted the new panels accessible, under a five percent grade and, if possible, under two percent. We had to balance access, sustainability, and history. In addition, the soils were as hard as concrete. And as a result, the most common plant was a small knotweed. Soil experts, James Urban, FASLA, and others, and I thought that grading it under 2 percent wouldn’t work. The lawn panels would continue not drain well and tend toward compaction. We got the NPS to go with at least 1.8 percent, but at the edges we were up at about 4 percent and then 3 percent and then domed, but tipped northward.

To reduce compaction, soil must have open air pores. The team found the best soil for defending against compaction is sandy loam. Investigations addressed whether or not there should be additives in the soil; these little crunchy things that spring back and keep the soil open. The NPS didn’t want to go down that road, so they approved a very good sandy soil mix. The first phase they decided they had a little too much organic matter. They changed it up a little bit on the second phase. We achieved what L’Enfant and Frederick Olmsted, Jr. were after: the long green corridor.

Restored National Mall, Washington, D.C. / Adam Fagen, Flickr

You just completed a cultural landscape report for Woodstock and have begun design work to reinterpret the landscape, so its story becomes more accessible to future generations. What did you unearth through your research? Where has that led your planning and design work?

The Woodstock project is a lot of fun because it’s such recent history. We developed the Cultural Landscape Report by looking at the main field where the concerts happened. We found information digging into the archive at the Museum at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. They had been gathering material for years, including all these low-flown, oblique aerials from a plane and ground photography.

It turned out that just barely digging into the research we found the envelope is a lot bigger. There’s the main field, Filippini Pond, where everybody went skinny dipping, and Bindy Bazaar in the woods between the main field and the hog farm where food was made. The hog farm tells the story about the commune movement. They provided the food at Woodstock, so everyone saw how a commune worked.

Hippies enjoying Filippini Pond / C. Alexander, 1969, Bethel Woods Archive

In opening up the land base envelope, we compared what we saw being used to what was actually leased to the concert organizers by the farmer Max Yasgur. The event was held on an alfalfa field, which was mown for the event. I happen to have an old alfalfa field and know what they look like. So when I saw the photos, I thought: “Oh, this is an old alfalfa field with people in Indian prints striding across it.”

There was a guy in one of the trailers who was drawing plans. He drew one plan of the Bindy Woods with the trails, so we used that to figure out that interesting area. Hippies had set up 20 something booths to sell tie dye, Indian prints, roach clips, or whatever. They put up hand-painted signs on the trees naming the paths — highway groovy path, etc.

Woodstock’s organizers planned very well for 100,000 people. They had medical officers and police; they were actually well-organized. But when the crowd hit 400,000 or 500,000, they didn’t have enough bathrooms or food.

The cultural landscape report investigation has informed where design interventions might be. The stage configuration was very interesting. The 60 by 70-foot stage was warped because of the plane of the slope of the hill. They made a turntable so they could swing the acts. When it rained, the platform wouldn’t turn anymore. They never finished the fencing but had this gorgeously shaped batwing fence.

Woodstock stage and batwing fences amid the crowds / Pinterest

We developed schematic designs of the footprint of the stage; the batwing fence; the performers’ bridge, which went over the road; and the posts at the height where the bridge occurred. We have a series of design options in front of the client that are very fun. We’ve already started to build the Bindy Bazaar paths and signs to interpret the vendors.

Bindy Bazaar paths and signs / Heritage Landscapes, LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects and Planners

What makes a successful cultural landscape report? How are these reports evolving?

When we started doing cultural landscape reports, they were called historic landscape reports. There weren’t rules. We sat on committees and helped frame cultural landscape preservation and management standards and guidelines for the National Park Service and Secretary of Interior. There are a set of steps: history, existing landscape condition, analysis of continuity and change, treatment exploration and recommendations. The goal is to find out if you are going to just preserve a landscape as-found, restore it to some earlier documented time; reconstruct missing pieces; or rehabilitate the landscape, adapting to current needs. These reports help us to suit contemporary and future needs while preserving what has been inherited.

We’re now up to over 110 cultural landscape reports or assessments. The New York Botanical Garden and Longwood Gardens really wanted the history because they sought to understand how their property had evolved. That was all they wanted. So sometimes it’s just a piece. When we worked at Dumbarton Oaks, they wanted analysis as well, so they could understand continuity and change, the evolution of the designed landscape of Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand.

Bloedel Reserve asked for a heritage landscape study. They came to us and said: “We understand Prentice Bloedel’s words, but what do they mean?” And we said, “You have the artifact. We can interpret the artifact to get at the meaning.” Cultural landscape reports are customized for each place. For the second phase of analysis at Bloedel, we told them: “Okay, now you actually need to dig deeper.” They have an amazing landscape that has four character areas and 26 component landscapes. The genius of this landscape is the differentiation between the individual components, but part of the practices they were employing in their daily management were blurring those unique aspects. We helped them really hone in on the character of the moss garden versus the Japanese garden versus the woodland paths so they can manage by area.

Bloedel Reserve / Heritage Landscapes, LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects and Planners

For our work at Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village, we made sure we researched the African American contribution to shaping the landscape. This kind of analysis depends on the place and the client, but there is a heightened sense of social justice today. That framework led us to understand whose labor actually created a place. At the Academical Village, we found the way of life for enslaved peoples did not change after the Civil War. What changed their way of life was technology. When water and sewer systems were connected to every building and lighting came, the daily life within the core of the campus shifted. These changed the back breaking labor of daily life — hauling water, chopping wood, and gardening — by enslaved peoples, who were freed at that point, but whose life and daily activities had not substantially changed from the evidence we saw on the land.

University of Virginia / Heritage Landscapes, LLC, Preservation Landscape Architects and Planners

You have said that “culture and nature are entangled and inseparable.” How did you reach that conclusion?

While we have protected areas on the planet, there isn’t place on Earth that hasn’t been influenced by humanity. We’re in an era of human influence if you look at climate change and, hopefully, our greenhouse gas draw down vectors. If we envision ourselves as a part of nature, and we see humanity as one species of many, rather than the dominant species, and we see the planet as the place where we all live, it changes our perspectives on how to proceed. Nature and culture, place and people are completely interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent.

The big issue with climate change is finding ways to draw down greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere. I was fascinated with Paul Hawkins’ book Drawdown, which ranked the top hundred ways to reduce emissions. Most people would think the answer would be more solar energy or carbon sequestration. But society needs to get up to speed with its needs. Actually, some of the most effective carbon reduction solutions are the empowerment of women, education for girls, and birth control for women, so we don’t overpopulate the world, and women can take a real role in the future.

You’ve been an advocate for cultural landscape preservation, equitable access to public spaces, and inclusive planning and design in international organizations such as UN-HABITAT, UNESCO, and ICOMOS. At the same time, you have also advocated for greater landscape architect participation in these organizations. How can we bridge the gap between policy bodies and the design world?

I have had rewarding engagements with peers and related professionals in working groups that build international doctrine. You gain a broadened sense of where your work can fit because the picture is expanding for you. In my opinion, all of us can benefit from global engagement — from meeting with peers face to face and engaging in committees to participating in the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), which has a very strong new policy that they passed in September on climate change, and ICOMOS, which is a curator of world heritage, the culture advisor to UNESCO World Heritage. I am constantly contributing to ICOMOS to strengthen our global heritage.

In these international bodies, I learn from others, share what I know, and the result is we all lift ourselves up together. We also bring forward emerging professionals. I’m currently the president of the ICOMOS-IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes. We have about 212 members worldwide. We’re strengthening and coalescing our membership in Latin America to do a better job there with cultural landscapes. We’re adding a number of emerging professionals to begin to address the wealth of cultural heritage in Africa. We gain a lot by uplifting everyone, all boats rise together.

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.”

How to Revitalize Post-war Plazas

Lever House
Lever Plaza / Ken Smith Workshop

Revitalizing post-war plazas requires a deep understanding of the historical significance and degree of integrity of the existing conditions, which to Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, can then “guide the level of intervention and level of surgery that one is applying to the bone structure.”

Birnbaum, along with Susan Rademacher, Hon. ASLA, parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and Ken Smith, FASLA, principal at Ken Smith Workshop, laid out pathways for the revitalization of post-war plazas.

Birnbaum provided a framework for how to measure success that operates on two axes: historical significance and integrity.

Historical significance relates to the importance of the plaza culturally, both locally and within the landscape architecture canon, while integrity focuses on the condition of the original design and implementation.

To demonstrate how the graph works, Birnbaum located three plazas within it: Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis (high significance and high integrity); Boston City Hall Plaza (medium significance and medium integrity); and Love Park in Philadelphia (low significance and low integrity).

Peavey
Peavey Plaza by Paul Friedberg / Wikipedia

Birnbaum then defined seven aspects of integrity for plazas:

Location: Place where the plaza is constructed.
Setting: Physical environment around the building.
Design: The form, place, materials, and structure of the plaza.
Materials: What the plaza is constructed with.
Workmanship: Physical evidence of the construction and craftsmanship of the plaza.
Feeling: Quality and often intangible elements that constitute a place.
Association: Historical and cultural ties to the plaza.

Birnbaum used his methodology to categorize Mellon Square in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (high significance and medium-high integrity); Lever House Plaza in New York City (high significance and medium integrity); Time-Life Building in Chicago (medium-high significance and medium integrity); and Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa (medium-low significance and low integrity), prefacing the case studies Rademacher and Smith detailed.

Rademacher explained how Mellon Square had maintained its integrity for many years after its construction but lost its character after an integrity-reducing reconstruction in the 1980s.

The 2007 update, led by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and implemented by Heritage Landscapes, aimed to restore Mellon Square to its original design, eliminating several of the changes that occurred during the 1987 reconstruction.

Mellon Square.jpg
Mellon Square Reconstruction / The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Rademacher laid out a few of the problems that came up with the restoration. Fountain function was dependent on a worker being present. Planting was overgrown or dead. And “most egregious was a redesign of the fountain” that led to a new double crenelated edge, which divorced the timing of the water feature from the original design and its intent.

Many of the materials were preserved in the 1987 reconstruction, but recreating the major elements of the plaza would be central to the 2007 reconstruction. The fountain
was the most difficult piece to return to its historical character, with the original slow contemplative rhythm of the fountain being at odds with contemporary thought about how fountains should perform. Ultimately, the team decided on a flashy program on the hour and the slower contemplative program for the remainder of the time.

Returning the plaza to its original design was important for it to retain its integrity and to maintain its historical significance for the City of Pittsburgh.

Smith elaborated on three projects that his firm has worked on, each project approaching the historical legacy of plazas in different ways.

First, and the most historically significant, was the Lever House in New York City (see image at top). Smith’s team relied on a set of photographs by Ezra Stoller to recreate the plaza in lieu of many architectural drawings for the plaza space.

Stoller photographed the project during construction, upon completion, and for several years after the project was finished. This helped Smith to understand the changes throughout the first few years of the project, particularly in planting and usage. The analysis resulted in a near-identical reconstruction of the space.

The Time-Life Building plaza features a distinct terrazzo patterning that carries through into the building’s lobby, which is the only part of the building complex that is part of the historic registry. The tile patterning was then paramount to the design of the plaza. Smith’s team recreated the terrazzo look in concrete. The major change was relocating the fountain to “reframe the plaza relative to the sidewalk,” creating a connection between the Avenue of The Americas and the plaza.

Time-Life Building plaza / Ken Smith Design Workshop

Cowles Common’s, formerly Nollen Plaza in Des Moines, Iowa received the most change while retaining the tilted orientation of the plaza in relation to the street grid.

Cowles Comon
Cowles Commons / Des Moines Performing Arts Center

Major changes included eliminating a wall separating the north and south sides of Des Moines, the addition of a new fountain feature in the center stripe of the plaza, and the installation of a new sculpture by Jim Campbell.

Each of the plazas hold some level of historical significance as post-war plazas, but as Rademacher and Smith noted, the measure of the success is not dependent on the funds spent on the projects, but on identifying and enhancing the spirit of the places.