Cooper Hewitt Announces the Winners of its 2018 National Design Awards– Architect, 5/8/18
“This year’s winners include Anne Whiston Spirn, a Cambridge, Mass.–based author, landscape architect, and MIT’s Cecil and Ida Green distinguished professor of landscape architecture and planning (for Design Mind) and Boston-based landscape architecture firm Mikyoung Kim Design (for Landscape Architecture).”
Five Important Reasons Why You Should Hire a Landscape Architect– Times Square Chronicles, 5/11/18
“When designing and planning your landscaping, it is crucial to hire an expert instead of creating the features on your own. Landscaping involves a unique balance of amplifying the natural features surrounding your home to come up with a functional and attractive environment.”
“The wall is a military structure that has gained new resonance today,” said Anatole Tckikine, the organizer of a two-day symposium on military landscapes at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. But walls aren’t the only military structures that have shaped our landscapes. From the U.S. Interstate system, which was designed to facilitate evacuations from cities in the event of atomic strike; to the utopian, star-shaped forts of old Europe; demilitarized zones that separate warring lines; and commemorative memorials that demand our awe, like the imposing Motherland Calls in Stalingrad, Russia, military landscapes are not just empty spaces but “landscapes of people.”
And as war has evolved over the ages, these landscapes of people have evolved, too, said Antoine Picon, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Up until relatively recently, military landscapes were about creating fortifications or gaining control over the conflict by achieving some physical advantage. Generals sought higher ground for their artillery. Rivers, hills, and other natural features would be used to hem in armies. The landscape of a battle ground was critical to reducing the number of variables and achieving military success.
But today, the ground for action has greatly expanded, Picon explained. “With our sprawling military geographies, the rise of boundless violence, and the infinite energy of atomic weapons, there has been a globalization of the landscapes of conflict.” One result is “that the landscape can no longer regulate military action. Fortifications no longer work.”
War now creates expansive environments, not just landscapes or territories. Imagine the drone flying overhead; war is like a video game. “Before the landscape contained the military event; now, the event generates the landscape.”
During the symposium, lectures zig-zagged through historical eras and regions, each making points about how the military has shaped our landscapes over time.
John Dixon Hunt, professor emeritus of landscape history at the University of Pennsylvania, delved into how military fortifications inspired peace-time landscapes in the 17th and 18th centuries in the United Kingdom. He explains that the “earliest use of ha-has in landscape dates from 1695, and then at Castle Howard and at Stowe in the 1710s: the ha-ha sought to distinguish the garden from the non-garden, but gradually worked to confuse the status and significance of each.” Beyond the ha-has, peace-time castles put in elaborate walls and other military-inspired fortifications. Dixon Hunt asked: “Why fortify a garden?” Protections could “keep out thieves and cold drafts,” creating micro-climates beneficial to growing food.
Fortified landscapes ended up falling out of favor with the rise of picturesque view espoused by landscape architect Capability Brown and his contemporaries. Everything was opened up for the eye to enjoy.
For Finola O’Kane Crimmins, a professor at University College Dublin, the Battle of the Boyne, the only time that “Ireland was an arena of European War,” is a source of great interest. In 1690, protestant successor King William III vanquished the Catholic deposed King of England James II. Later, the battle ground became a designed focal point among the families who built great manors there in the battle’s aftermath, with the Boyne Obelisk serving as the dominant reminder of victory. “The obelisk is the most concentrated architectural form for power.”
Topographical features of the landscape were highlighted in paintings as well, always from the point of view of the victor.
Moving forward centuries and to Southeast Asia, Pamela McElwee, an anthropologist and ecologist at Rutgers University, gave a fascinating tour of a military land use — the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was used to convey soldiers and supplies from the Communist North Vietnam to Viet Cong insurgents in the US-backed South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The trail wasn’t a singular pathway or even a set of trails, but a “plate of spaghetti or a spider web within a spider web.” Known as the Truong San supply route to the Vietnamese, the “porous, creative, and innovative” trails were “the lifeblood of the insurgency,” which some 33,000 North Vietnamese soldiers died to defend.
Armed with new Vietnamese scholarship on the trail, McElwee was the first American scholar to gain access to the region of some of the most important trail heads. She discovered the trail was formed out of a balance “working with and against nature.” Soldiers created tree bridges to hide the trail and protect it from aerial bombardment, and they purposefully kept a light footprint, cooking and eating in constantly-changing locations, so that American soldiers wouldn’t be able to discover their whereabouts. But they also had to hack their way through jungles with machetes, fight off deadly snakes, build bamboo ladders to climb ravines, and carry their own pontoons to forge rivers. Some 80 percent of the soldiers and workers traveling the trail, and passing through places like the Gorge of Lost Souls, got malaria.
In the early 60s, routes through Laos multiplied with the help of indigenous ethnic minorities who had the most-intimate knowledge of the landscape, and by the early 70s, many trails had widened, so that more than 10,000 people were using it each day. Later, President Nixon ordered the widespread spraying of Agent Orange, a herbicide, in order to reveal the trail to bombers. The end result was to kill the tall trees, giving light to rapacious bamboo, which would form large masses that further hid the network of paths. For McElwee, the endless labyrinthine quality and “impossibility” of the trail, and the deep inhospitality of the jungle had an impact on Americans, perhaps weakening their resolve and contributing to their defeat.
And, finally, Astrid Eckert, a historian at Emory University, took us to the Iron Curtain, which began as a figure of speech Winston Churchill used to describe what he saw as the dark influence of the Soviet Union falling across eastern Europe at the start of the Cold War, but soon became a real presence once the borders between east and west became a walled and fenced-in no mans lands fatal to cross. While the Communists were known for degrading the environment — for example, the Aral Sea was desiccated to grow cotton — the borderlands became de facto protected landscapes teaming with biodiversity. When the walls came down and the borders opened in Germany and other eastern European in the late 80s and early 90s, conservationist rushed in to save these landscapes. Some 85 percent of these former borderlands are now preserved as the 7,700-mile-long European Green Belt.
The “ridiculously photogenic” green belt, where nature was granted a “40-year vacation,” serves as a “happy end to partition” and is a new ecological symbol of unification — the belt grew together and so former foes can come together again. Well, at least that is the prevailing narrative, Eckert said.
The reality is that constructing the border over the 1950s and 60s was an act of environmental destruction: marshes and wetlands were drained, hydrological systems were destroyed, and canals and trenches created gaping scars. Minefields killed so many deer that eastern Germans determined deer to be a nuisance — because they exploded so many mines. Except for bird populations, which benefited from the protections, especially Winchats, which enjoyed nesting on fence posts, “the borders meant the end of biological exchange.” Due to the work of conservationists, Eckert said, ironically, the borderlands are once again inaccessible, at least to development. But the green belt is now seen as the “flagship of German conservation.”
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian National Design Museum has announced its 2018 award winners. Among the 10 winners for a variety of design disciplines, MIT planning and landscape architecture professor Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, took home the award for “design mind” and Mikyoung Kim Design won for landscape design.
The Cooper Hewitt writes that Spirn’s “writings and action research have brought forth a new state of mind among designers and the general public—provoking the integration of city and nature, advancing design theory and practice, and transforming how people see and act.”
In an 2015 interview to mark the 30th anniversary of The Granite Garden, Spirn discussed progress since the book’s release and where we still come up short:
“We’ve made enormous progress, particularly with water. Ironically, we’ve done less well on climate and air quality. I say ironically, because there’s so much awareness of climate change these days. There’s been a lot of attention paid to design proposals aimed at adapting to rising sea levels, but less to the enormous potential that the design of cities holds for reducing the factors that contribute to climate change in the first place. We need to truly re-imagine the way we design cities.”
And for 30 years, Spirn led the West Philadelphia Landscape Project, an “investigation into how to improve environmental equality and social equity at the same time.” On this work, Spirn said:
“The West Philadelphia Landscape Project was a laboratory for working out ideas about the language of landscape and landscape literacy. It was extraordinary working with 12- and 13-year-olds in Mill Creek, a low-income African-American neighborhood in West Philly, as they learned how to read that landscape.” Learn more about Spirn.
Mikyoung Kim, FASLA, founding principal of Mikyoung Kim Design, was recognized for an “exceptional body of award-winning work that redefines the discipline of landscape architecture and inhabits the intersection of art and science.” Kim leads the firm along with Bryan Chou, ASLA, design leader, and Ian Downing, ASLA, technical leader.
Mikyoung Kim Design works at all scales — from big-picture master plans and large urban parks to bespoke residential spaces and art installations. The firm designs unique places that are not only sustainable and resilient but also magnets for people, especially kids. The firm makes memorable use of materials, transforming them through an intensive, creative process.
Mikyoung Kim Design is perhaps most well-known for its ChonGae Canal Source Point Park in Seoul, South Korea, along the banks of the restored Cheonggyecheon stream. The park became a model for stream and river restoration in a number of other cities. An environmental and cultural asset once buried in the name of progress was unearthed and saved.
In a recent interview, Kim explained how they needed to design a healing space without exposing the patients, who had compromised immune systems, to water or soil:
“We had to put aside our preconceived notions of what healing gardens are and really start to abstract nature in order to create this indoor experience for these families and patients.”
She also explained how innovative materials helped forge the connections to nature everyone wanted:
“Throughout our design process, we worked closely with different constituents. We worked with families and patients and brought two options. We brought an option that used more natural materials, and then we brought in a design that had more innovative materials — materials people hadn’t seen before — more contemporary materials built in innovative ways. I’d say 99-percent of kids were drawn to those. They said, ‘Cool, that’s amazing. I’ve never seen that before.'” Learn more about Mikyoung Kim Design.
Also worth noting: WEISS/MANFREDI, an architecture firm known for its multi-disciplinary approach, won for architecture design. WEISS/MANFREDI collaborated with Thomas Balsley Associates to create the award-winning Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park, a model for resilient landscape design, in Queens, New York City, and also designed the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington.
Mia Birk benchmarked the cycling upsurge of Portland, Oregon; Janette Sadik-Khan, Manhattan and Brooklyn; Pete Jordan, Amsterdam; and Talking Heads’ David Byrne chronicled his experience in dozens of other cities in the USA and abroad.
Here, the author of renders a litany of do’s and don’ts on myriad topics. Many are familiar to bicycle and pedestrian planners, and range from legal and liability issues to the importance of tracking metrics and closely monitoring travel behavior. As expected, the core of his disposition reveals how Copenhagen, Denmark, where the busiest street carries 40,000 bike trips per day, sets the bar for cities around the world.
As a bicycle planning consultant and TEDx speaker best known for his popular Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog, Colville-Andersen lays out the case for the Danish approach to infrastructure design (although, if one reads carefully, he occasionally confesses the Dutch do a better job). In principle, this translates to network design that is uncomplicated and deliberate, or as he states it, is “practical, functional and elegant.” He defends the many examples in his toolbox, some dating back generations, as the very foundation of what he calls “the life-sized city.”
The core of his case rests on the premise that an “elegant” infrastructure is one that optimizes “intuitive” travel anywhere within the overall network — as effortless as finding a light switch within arm’s reach when entering a room. The intuitive model, he argues, should be the standard for all cities, not just world champions like Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, or other of his favorites, such as Strasbourg, France or Antwerp, Belgium.
And what are the key network characteristics? Some of these have been cited earlier, but they beg reaffirmation:
Travel routes should match desire lines, otherwise the cyclist will simply ignore the bike path and take a direct route. Cycling routes should be continuous from suburb to city center, and located on main streets, not side streets. The author eschews bicycle boulevards, which thread through residential zones in Portland, Berkeley, and elsewhere in the USA, ridiculing such designs as dysfunctional “detours,” and he detests painted “sharrows” on low volume streets.
Colville-Andersen affirms one-way (as opposed to two-way) cycle-tracks, which typically run next to the street at curb height. Such traffic separation assures safety and speed in urban contexts. But he cautions that they must be smooth, composed of asphalt, not pavers, and as free of gravel, snow and debris as car lanes. Cycle-tracks should be wide. Wide enough for cyclists to ride side-by-side, which in Copenhagen is at least 7.5 feet.
As one might have guessed, traffic control signage and pictograms, the kind that litter American cities, is anathema to the author. Intuitive cycling shouldn’t require much in the way of signage, even way-finding.
Bikes should have preference over cars at traffic lights, not only for safety considerations, but because maintaining proper “cycling momentum” in an urban context is crucial. The recent Copenhagen innovation, Green Wave, has traffic lights that are timed to coincide with the pace cyclists (not cars) travel. One can only envy a city where it is possible to legally and safely whisk through a succession of street intersections without stopping.
The long view is important and a chapter is set aside tracing the historical ups and downs beginning in 1892 when an equestrian trail was converted to Copenhagen’s first bikeway. In another he disputes the many myths about Copenhagen’s success story that others use as excuses for not doing a better job of their own.
One distinguishing and indisputable fact, however, is Copenhagen’s bicycle budget, which averaged $31.7 million per year from 2006-2016. With budgets like that it isn’t all that difficult for bicycling advocates to imagine a day in their own cities when the largest traffic swarms during rush hour will be composed of more bikes than cars.
This guest post is by Martin Zimmerman, who writes from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is an urban planner, journalist, consultant and daily cyclist.
LAAB currently accredits first professional programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level in the United States and its territories. Of these programs, all are traditional programs housed within universities and colleges throughout the United States. While some courses within a few programs are offered via distance education, there are no LAAB accredited programs that currently offer a large portion or all of their curriculum online. However, as more students enroll in online courses and programs during their time in higher education, the demand for an LAAB accredited online program will likely grow.
About 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in a U.S. institution in fall 2014 – up 3.9 percent from the previous fall, according to Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States, an annual report by the Babson Survey Research Group. Additionally, a majority of calls and emails received at ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture regarding landscape architecture education involves the availability of online programs. Therefore, LAAB has undertaken the process to review its standards relative to the delivery of online courses in landscape architecture. This review began in February 2017 and its timeline is included below.
Timeline for development of accreditation standards for online delivery of content in professional landscape architecture degree programs:
February 2017 LAAB Winter Board Meeting
LAAB began discussion of the potential for incorporating standards language that would allow the assessment of online delivery of courses in landscape architecture bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. The board agreed to sponsor a visit to the only known institution offering large portions of landscape architecture degree programs online – Academy of Art University’s (AAU) BFA and MFA in landscape architecture.
April 2017 Academy of Art University Visit
Ned Crankshaw, FASLA (LAAB/University of Kentucky); Kelleann Foster, ASLA (Pennsylvania State University); and Kristopher Pritchard (LAAB) visited AAU in San Francisco to review pedagogical process and outcomes in their programs.
July 2017 LAAB Summer Board Meeting
LAAB invited Dr. Leah Matthews, executive director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), to discuss online professional program accreditation. Dr. Matthews confirmed LAAB’s general direction concerning additional review areas needed for on-line program delivery. The board discussed next steps in a deliberative process of online standard development and evaluation. Each step involves input from LAAB’s community of interest and board review and revision.
October 2017 ASLA Annual Meeting
LAAB shared AAU visit summary and ASLA Committee on Education discussion summary with LA program leaders and invited them to provide any feedback and comments to LAAB.
February 2018 LAAB Winter Board Meeting
LAAB reviewed and discussed an initial draft of standard(s) and assessments directed toward online educational delivery.
March 2018 CELA Annual Conference
LAAB organized a panel discussion about online professional degree program accreditation. Comment period on draft standards is open through the end of May 2018.
July 2018 LAAB Summer Board Meeting
LAAB will analyze comments received and frame a revision of draft standards with final language development following the meeting.
LAAB now invites members of the community of interest and the public to review and comment on the proposed revisions found on the LAAB website. We welcome comments and input on the revised LAAB Accreditation Standards until Friday, June 1. Please send comments to Kristopher Pritchard, accreditation & education programs manager.
LAAB anticipates final adoption of the revised Accreditation Standards by winter 2019. Follow-up questions and inquiries may be directed to Manager Pritchard.
This year the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) looked to the future for World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM) by featuring ASLA student chapters, who are the next generation of landscape architects.
In 2018, ASLA continued its This is Landscape Architecture social media campaign. More than 1,638 users posted nearly 6,000 instances of their favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with #WLAM2018. These posts helped educate 2.8 million people around the globe about the profession.
To see a glimpse of the future of landscape architecture, ASLA asked a different student chapter to take over our Instagram each day in April. Arizona State University showed us how they are exploring the basics of design: sketching.
ASLA student chapters also work with their local communities on projects. Auburn University shared its Alabama Lab, where students “use design to help create and continue conversations about local issues across a larger geographical and disciplinary spectrum.”
Letter to the Editor: the Frick’s Viewing Garden Is Worth Preserving– The Art Newspaper, 4/25/18
“Brian Allen’s opinion piece about the revised expansion plans for the Frick Collection—The Frick’s expansion is a sensitive, elegant plan—starts off on a high note: ‘The first order of business in a building project involving so lovely a setting as the Frick Collection is do no harm.'”
Who Benefits When a City Goes Green?– Next City, 4/25/18
“Going green is a cornerstone of contemporary urban policy planning — and cultivating a green identity has become vital in boosting a city’s economic profile.”
Later this spring, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) will release a set of policy recommendations on climate change and resilience designed to better arm advocates pursuing changes in laws, regulations, and codes at the federal, state, and local levels. Introducing a panel at the group’s spring meeting in Washington, D.C., ASLA CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, explained that the recommendations will cover both natural systems and the built environment, and their goal will be to spur the use of financial incentives to encourage positive change.
Natural system recommendations will include measures designed to expand the use of green infrastructure; protect tree canopies, green bio-corridors, and open spaces; support biodiversity, especially among pollinators; and assist diverse plants and animal species migrate and adapt. Example recommendations include: create dedicated funding streams for green infrastructure; incentivize the planting of native and regionally-appropriate plants, protection of habitats, and the increase of biodiversity; and encourage the inclusion of climate change assessments in green space planning, including at the regional level.
Built environment recommendations focus on how to further encourage more resilient and sustainable growth patterns through the use of compact development, sustainable land development and zoning, and transit. Example recommendations include: restructure insurance to encourage resilient re-building; set up community investment trusts for green infrastructure and resilient design projects; and evaluate new transit projects through an equity lens.
A panel discussion then covered how allied organizations are maintaining a focus on climate change in today’s divisive political climate. ASLA President Greg Miller, FASLA, led Jeff Soule, director of outreach at the American Planning Association (APA); Mark Golden, CEO of the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE); Tom Smith, CEO of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); and Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, immediate past-president of ASLA, through a discussion.
To varying degrees, all organizations actively call for sustainable and resilient planning, design, and engineering that will help communities better protect themselves and adapt.
A key message, which was relevant for all organizations, came from Golden: “health, safety, and welfare (HSW) comes above all other considerations.” Following where the climate science leads, these organizations promote sustainable and resilient practices because they will help ensure health, safety, and welfare in an era of temperature and weather extremes.
According to Golden, more resilient buildings and landscapes are less costly to build if they are created in advance of a destructive natural event. A recent National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) report found that for every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saves $6 after a disaster. Sadly, though, most communities “continue to be reactive instead of pro-active” in preparing for climate change-driven natural disasters.
Rinner explained ASLA is now purposefully talking more directly about climate change. “The words we use matter. We take a strong position on climate change, sustainability, resilience, and adaptation.” She added that nearly a third of sessions at last year’s Annual Meeting & EXPO in Los Angeles were focused on climate change and resilience.
In the next year or two, Congress will be taking up a new transportation bill. The sentiment seemed to be advocating for a more sustainable transportation system at the federal level will be an uphill battle. According to APA director Soule, “we are actually regressing at the federal level and just trying to keep what we’ve accomplished.” Leadership on green and complete streets and other forward-thinking transportation systems now comes from states and cities. Most of the funds for transportation will be spent at those levels, too, so it makes sense to focus advocacy there.
ASCE CEO Smith said it’s increasingly important to leverage skills and resources from the local level. He sees the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which is training chief resilience officers around the world, as a success story.
Rinner agreed, explaining that the bottom-up We’re Still In coalition — a group of American communities adhering to the U.S. commitments to the Paris climate accord — has signed up 2,700 cities and towns, and the numbers keep growing. “Local action can have a cumulative impact.”
States and cities can also experiment and create new models where the federal government cannot. For example, California has taken the lead in developing a new carbon trading system. “The rest of the world is watching to see if it works — and if it does, California’s model will become something more can follow.”
Smith brought up how the dearth of maintenance budgets hurts efforts to achieve greater sustainability and resilience. According to a report card ASCE releases every four years, the U.S.’s infrastructure now has a sad D+ rating. “Maintenance is the number-one issue.” To deal with this problem, ASCE is developing new guidelines to reduce infrastructure life cycle costs by 50 percent. “We’ve got to think differently in the future.” Smith sees some public-private partnerships as leading the way on the leaner, smarter infrastructure of the future.
In a reality check, APA director Soule cautioned there is still a major gap between high-level policy discussions on sustainability and resilience and the situation on the ground. For example: As New Orleans rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, local officials and planners tried to stave off rebuilding in areas that had been deemed especially at risk of flooding, with the goal of saving those areas for permanent stormwater management. But the “political reality” demanded homeowners be allowed to build back where they had lived before.
The truth is no one wants to be told they can’t go back home and rebuild. As a changing climate impacts more communities, reconciling health, safety, and welfare considerations with people’s emotional attachment to a place will become an even greater challenge.
In mid-April, the Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) hosted Leading with Landscape IV: Transforming North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the latest in TCLF’s series of conferences designed to help communities better understand how landscape architecture can yield transformational change in the public realm. Ten speakers from the Triangle and nine from elsewhere gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina, to unpack the region’s history, explore its landscapes, and pose questions about the role of landscape architecture in a region reconciling tensions between growth, equity, and ecology.
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, president of TCLF, introduced the notion that the Triangle’s landscapes represent a continuum of “cultural lifeways” — landscapes that have over time encompassed public squares and greenways, parkways, and freeways; agrarian values and modernist ideals; asphalt-dominated office parks and revitalized downtown cores.
Adriaan Geuze, ASLA, founding partner at West 8, is designing a sculpture garden for the Nasher Museum of Art on the suburban-feeling stretch of Duke University that lies between its Georgian East and Gothic West campuses. Geuze shared ideas about improving the journey from East to West, and his firm’s attempts to find inspiration in the site’s Piedmont landscape, which had been compromised by stream channelization and road construction.
Geuze joked that culverts are “America’s legacy to natural land,” and he described with humor his perception of Campus Drive, the Olmsted Brothers road that connects East and West campuses: “Everyone travels it — up and down, up and down. It’s pretty dumb. It’s not cool. The buses are noisy. And if you are a student on a bike, you are dead five times in a mile — it is very simple; you will not survive.”
Later in the day the same landscape features — the ubiquitous culvert and Duke’s Campus Drive — made it into the remarks of Alexandra Lange, Curbed’s architecture critic who grew up in Durham. For Lange, the “little wilderness” of the culvert near her family’s house was one of the most precious cultural landscapes of her childhood, as was Campus Drive, which afforded some measure of teenage independence when she was allowed to ride “the slowest, safest bus in the world.”
The distance between the remarks suggests the fertile ground on which the conference operated, seeking to make sense of a landscape continuum that can contain both definitions of a culvert — on the one hand a symbol of irresponsible design practice and an obstacle to ecological restoration, and on the other hand a vernacular feature, a site of memory and attachment capable of fostering genuine communion with nature.
Randolph Hester, FASLA, director of the Center for Ecological Democracy, is a North Carolina native and Durham resident. He described the Piedmont as “the land of the second sons,” dominated in its earliest European settlement by those who had not inherited the family plantation in Virginia and so moved south to become modest “dirt farmers,” inextricably tied to the land and characterized by “ragged edges.”
“How do we maintain that modesty as we become a place where everybody wants to be doing design?” Hester asked. “How do you get the essence when you come from the outside? And it makes me think — how do natives get the essence of a place when they take it for granted?”
The conference offered a venue for both outsiders and natives to grapple with questions of place and authenticity. The opening presentation by Birnbaum, followed by North Carolina State University faculty members Chuck Flink, FASLA, and Kofi Boone, ASLA, grounded the day’s discussions in the history and contemporary realities of the Triangle.
Flink, president of Greenways Inc., offered a sweeping view of the Triangle’s landscape spanning millennia. He traced over time the importance of local ecology in driving culture, economies, and development patterns. He reminded the audience that the Piedmont, before European settlement, was defined by a deciduous and pine forest so thick that, in the words of ecologist B. W. Wells: “One could travel for days without a good view of the sun, and at night the constellations could seldom be seen because of the interfering canopy.”
Flink spoke to the degradation of that forest to make way for farmland, which later made way for quarter-acre subdivisions. He addressed the “myth of an aristocracy” established by European Southerners to justify the brutal, economy-building exploitation of enslaved Africans. He pointed out that a young Frederick Law Olmsted was the first to broadly expose that myth through a series of articles for the New-York Daily Times.
And he pointed to the traditional push and pull between development and ecological design in the Triangle, represented on one end by the city-approved floodplain development of Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall — which flooded the day before its opening in 1972 — and on the other end by growth since the 1970s of the city’s 115-mile, 3,800-acre riparian greenway system, which has become an international model.
Boone offered a crash course in regional history through a cultural lens. He described the economic engine of Research Triangle Park (RTP), a suburban office park that in the 1960s marketed its proximity — by way of forested highways — to three major research universities. RTP currently is seeking to retrofit its sprawl — to introduce an urban fabric that it sees as essential to attracting today’s top talent.
Boone then discussed the Triangle’s history of racism in the landscape — from plantation slavery to Jim Crow segregation, and the relegation of lower-wealth, African-American communities to floodplains. He spoke about the black communities that grew out of segregation, including the financial powerhouse of Black Wall Street in Durham, and the role of Raleigh’s African-American Chavis Park in hosting the early development of peaceful protest tactics by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which itself was founded at the segregated Shaw University.
But Boone reminded the audience that the Triangle’s cultural and demographic milieu is far from black-and-white. The Latino population is the biggest driver of growth in the Triangle, and the Asian population is growing in the suburbs closest to RTP. Boone pointed to evidence of this growth in the landscape, such as the Durham Green Flea Market and the growing number of Hindu temples in suburbs like Cary and Morrisville. “They’re bringing their cultural traditions with them, but right now they’re not represented in our public landscape,” Boone said. “What could that mean in 50 years, as these communities continue to grow and build resources? What will they think of our place?”
W. Fitzhugh Brundage, professor of history at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, addressed representation in the Triangle’s public landscapes through the lens of Confederate monuments. He referred to the “physical manifestations of memory that came to clutter the landscape” in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when private activists with access to funds and political power were allowed to install their monuments on public land, creating landscapes that were “by design, permanently exclusionary.”
Durham’s Confederate monument, which made national news after it was toppled by protesters in August, 2017, was dedicated in 1924. Brundage said that when private fundraising efforts for the monument failed, Julian Carr, a Confederate veteran, tobacco executive, and white supremacist, lobbied the state to allow public funds to supplement its cost.
That same year in Durham, on land down the road that had been donated by Carr, Trinity College rebranded itself as Duke University following a $19 million gift from James Buchanan Duke. In 1927, construction began on West Campus. A Philadelphia-based, African-American architect named Julian Abele designed the buildings. His identity was kept a secret until the 1980s, and he is rumored to have never visited the campus, as Duke and North Carolina at that time were strictly segregated. The Olmsted Brothers designed the West Campus landscape.
Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, founding principal at Reed Hilderbrand, has worked on a range of Duke campus projects during the past decade. He addressed the challenges inherent in working on historic landscapes, including how to balance principles of design integrity and timelessness with shifting social and political contexts that demand an updated approach.
“While I would never say that it was easy for Julian Abele and the Olmsted Brothers to envision Duke’s campus from the start — it wasn’t easy; it’s never easy — we’ve seen how the narratives that drive renewal or expansion in our own time are colored by a far more democratic, more political and noisier world in which we negotiate for change; we negotiate for everything. I doubt if they had much of a committee back then, and it’s pretty unlikely that student groups were involved.” Hilderbrand characterized his firm’s approach as “building and rebuilding the negotiated campus, where many voices are heard, and where the challenge for design is to give voice to plurality without sacrificing conviction or deluding intentions.”
Mark Hough, FASLA, university landscape architect at Duke, described the full range of distinct campus landscapes across the Triangle, including RTP and Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. He described the “dignified restraint” of the 18th-century University of North Carolina, which he said maintained its site’s gently rolling topography. North Carolina State, the land-grant university, had an early pastoral plan that was quickly abandoned in the chaos of postwar growth, leading to what Hough described as charm in a lack of cohesion and in a personal winding experience through campus. Duke’s West Campus, he said, was originally planned by the Olmsted Brothers to hug the ridge. When funds dwindled, that plan was replaced by a Beaux Arts version that flattened the landscape.
Hough argued campus landscapes have the potential to instill in generations of students an appreciation for aesthetics, ecology, and the designed landscape. And he argued the heart of campus landscape architecture lies in stewardship — in ethos and practice that preserve and enhance the integrity, purpose, and beauty of landscapes over time.
Presentations over the course of the day evoked the shifting cultural, political, and physical landscapes of the Triangle. Linda Jewell, FASLA, partner at Freeman and Jewell Landscape Architecture, grew up in Sanford, North Carolina; practiced in the Triangle during the 1980s; then spent most of her career in Berkeley. But for decades she has made regular trips to the Triangle to visit friends, colleagues, and family, and she shared her impressions over time.
“I get these little glimpses. It’s encouraging and discouraging. I’m very envious when I see people doing projects at Duke and projects around the area where — oh, my God — they allow people to eat on the sidewalks. Sam Reynolds and I constantly proposed letting people eat outside, and we weren’t allowed to do it. And we constantly proposed not having huge swaths of green lawn around everything, but we could not convince either the clients or the review institutions that this was a better way to go. So much progress has been made in terms of some of those things.”
But Jewell sounded a cautionary note about the Triangle’s larger landscape. She said she remembers the thick forests that used to line Interstate 40, which connects several communities throughout the Triangle and takes many people from the suburbs to RTP. Every time she comes home, she said, she sees more of the “suburban schlock” that lies behind the increasingly shallow treeline.
“It is a veil,” she said. “It is hiding all of that bad stuff that we’re doing behind the veil. Don’t forget about all of that suburban stuff we’ve built. We’ve got to do something with it.”
This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.
Daniel Gottlieb is director of planning and design at the North Carolina Museum of Art, which in the 1980s moved from downtown Raleigh to a 164-acre tract a 15-minute drive away. He has overseen the development of the Museum Park, which began with unplanned use of the campus open space by people who found their way there by car or greenway. It has since become an intentional effort by the museum to welcome and engage the public.
Gottlieb described the pre-museum history of the site, which most recently held a violent and segregated youth prison. He said his goal has been to use “ethical design” to transform the site into a place of gathering, diversity, ecological restoration, and public benefit. “The narrative arc for the North Carolina Museum of Art campus is one, you might say, of redemption — from incarceration and decay, from racism and segregation, to one of a cultural campus and of healing.”
Mark Johnson, FASLA, founding principal at Civitas, has overseen the latest addition to the Museum Park, a designed landscape that pulls visitors into the site and makes connections between the road and the park, between the museum and the park, and within the park itself (see image at top). Johnson described the firm’s use of precision in the landscape — perfect lines, a perfect ellipse, all softened by a native plant palette — to create spaces “that would support the idea that this was museum space. This is an outdoor gallery, but it’s also nature, but it’s also open-ended for you to experience however you want.”
The two other parks celebrated at the conference are City of Raleigh projects. Stephen Bentley, assistant director for Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources department, said Red Mountain Park in Birmingham and the Atlanta Beltline offer lessons in the promise and challenge of dealing with histories of racism, segregation, and gaping divides between haves and have-nots.
“Everything is not hunky-dory,” Bentley said of the cultural and economic divides in the Triangle. “We have a lot of success and a lot of great projects in the Triangle, but with great success comes great challenges. We have a lot of great momentum, and I think we should constantly be clear about the decisions we make, who we want to be, and where we want to go from here.”
The City of Raleigh hired Sasaki in 2015 to redesign Moore Square, one of two remaining downtown public squares of the four that were set aside in Raleigh’s original 1792 plan. (The loss of the public open space provided by the two other squares has been decried for more than a century; TCLF president Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, suggested in his opening remarks that Raleigh’s world-class greenway system is a 20th-century realization of its earlier, abandoned vision of accessible public space.)
Moore Square had become cluttered and underused over time; its newest iteration is currently under construction. Gina Ford, FASLA, formerly of Sasaki and now principal at Agency Landscape + Planning, traced Sasaki’s work redesigning Moore Square to an exhibit the firm had created to explore how legacy park systems were adapting for the 21st century. She said that lens — understanding the original plan, and how it might fit into a downtown Raleigh defined by growth and aspirations of equity — was key to their vision for an updated Moore Square. The design team included historians and local experts. They analyzed historical view sheds and relationships, the material nature of other historic downtown spaces, and the well-being of the square’s heritage oaks, some of which were more than 200 years old.
“Through all of this scalar exploration of Moore Square, from understanding its role in the district to understanding its role in the city, the park, all the way down to its material quality and its programmatic overlay, we hope that people who come to this new place see themselves through this landscape as part of that historic stream,” Ford said.
The biggest park project in the Triangle is Dorothea Dix Park, a 308-acre site of rolling hills and heritage oaks right on the edge of downtown Raleigh. The site was home until 2012 to Dorothea Dix Hospital, a mental health institution named after the 19th-century advocate who founded it. The City of Raleigh purchased the site in 2015 and hired Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) in 2017 to oversee a two-year master planning process.
Kate Pearce, senior planner with the City of Raleigh for Dorothea Dix Park, hopes Dix will become a world-class park that “redefines what it means to be making pubic space in our communities.”
“I feel like we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something that is going to impact lives for years to come,” Pearce said. “And we have the great opportunity but also the great challenge to ensure that as we create this park, the entire community believes that it is of and for them.” Pearce said the city was getting creative in reaching people who don’t usually come to planning meetings.
Adrienne Heflich, ASLA, associate at MVVA, gave an update on the firm’s attempts to pull a coherent and world-class park design from an enormous tract that still holds remnants of a landfill, a cemetery, and a hospital, including dozens of intact buildings.
The MVVA team has conceptually divided the site; about half of it would be inspired by the ideas and values of 19th-century American landscape architecture, “to embody the feeling of boundlessness, evince a lack of discernible edges, and support restored Piedmont habitats that have been erased or obscured or not celebrated previously.”
The rest of the site, including most of the buildings and the connections to downtown, would evoke a 21st-century activated park, “where there’s a successful juxtaposition of program, art, building reuse, interpretation of historic landscapes — and those are all blended together to create a new expression of urban and civic space really relevant to Raleigh and to the region.” Heflich cited Millennium Park in Chicago as an example.
At the end of a day of presentations that featured stunning but largely stand-alone landscape architecture projects around the Triangle, a final panel weighed in, offering additional and complementary visions for what it could mean to lead with landscape in the Triangle.
Andrew Fox, ASLA, professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University, shared a quote from Frederick Law Olmsted, who remarked on a trip in the 1850s that “the country for miles about Raleigh is nearly all pine forest, unfertile and so little cultivated that it is a mystery how a town of 2,500 inhabitants can obtain sufficient supplies from it to exist.”
Fox reminded the audience of issues facing the Triangle today — the degradation of local ecosystems and loss of farmland to sprawl; record-breaking heat; record-breaking drought; record-breaking deluge rainfalls; and projected population growth, among the largest and fastest in the country. Olmsted’s question of capacity remains, Fox said: “New issues are in many ways amplifications of old issues.”
Alexandra Lange, Curbed‘s architecture critic who grew up in Durham, was one of several final panelists to lament the absence of discussion regarding regional public transit and broader regional connectivity. “Maybe if this conference comes back here in 10 years, should it all be about paths and not parks?” Lange proposed.
Randolph Hester, FASLA, Durham resident and director of the Center for Ecological Democracy, pushed the audience to pursue democratic design, to foster authentic and open-ended public dialogues, and to advocate for their communities with vision and courage. “We have talked a lot about special places today. I think the real challenge is about the neighborhood. Most people live in neighborhoods. There are some really great stories and some really terrible stories about neighborhoods, and we need as we move forward to keep those in mind. The neighborhood is our closest and dearest public landscape.”
He brought up Chavis Heights, a neighborhood that he had helped to protect from urban renewal in the 1960s and that had declined due to a lack of public investment. “If we can do a Dix Park, we should be able to revitalize Chavis Heights as one of the unique black communities of this country.”
Mitchell Silver, Honorary ASLA, former director of planning in Raleigh and now commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, reminded landscape architects to look beyond the history and transformation of the land.
“There’s stories to be told in our land, but there’s also stories to be told by the communities that inhabit them,” he said. Change that will result in greater regional connectivity and density will require a broader approach: “It’s not just about transforming the place; it’s also transforming ourselves. We’re going to have to ask ourselves some difficult questions.
Walter Havener, ASLA, founding principal at Surface 678, asked the audience to remember the vital contributions of local design communities and institutions in leading with landscape through daily practice. “And I think that NC State has been integral to that process of promulgating those people and putting them out in the society, and I think that is one of the legs of the stool which holds up the Triangle. It is a remarkable story, and I think that it has been just as transforming as any other phenomenon that we’ve seen today.”
This guest post is by Lindsey Naylor, Student ASLA, master’s of landscape architecture candidate, North Carolina State University.