Led by climate leaders in the field of landscape architecture, ASLA is developing a profession-wide Climate Action Plan
ASLA has announced it is developing its first Climate Action Plan for the U.S. landscape architecture community. The ambitious plan seeks to transform the practice of landscape architecture by 2040 through actions taken by ASLA and its members focused on climate mitigation and adaptation, ecological restoration, biodiversity, equity, and economic development. The plan will be released at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, November 11-14, 2022, in San Francisco, CA.
The ASLA Climate Action Plan is led by a five-member Task Force and 16-member Advisory Group of climate leaders from the landscape architecture profession.
The diverse, intergenerational Task Force includes climate leaders at different stages of their professional life.
“Landscape architects are leaders in designing solutions to the climate and biodiversity crises that also provide multiple environmental, economic, social, and health co-benefits. ASLA purposefully included both established and emerging climate leaders in this critical Task Force, which will shape the profession far into the future,” said Eugenia Martin, FASLA, ASLA President.
Task Force members include:
Chair: Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, Principal, CMG Landscape Architecture, and Founder, Climate Positive Design, San Francisco, California
Conrad built Climate Positive Design into a global movement with the goal of ensuring all designed landscapes store more carbon than they emit while providing environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits.
Diane Jones Allen, FASLA, D. Eng., PLA, Director, Program in Landscape Architecture, University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and Principal Landscape Architect, DesignJones, LLC, Arlington, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana
José M. Almiñana, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP, Principal, Andropogon Associates, Ltd., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Sarah Fitzgerald, ASLA, Designer, SWA Group, Dallas, Texas
Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, PLA, Former ASLA President, Seattle, Washington
The goals, objectives, and action items of the plan are also shaped by a Climate Action Plan Advisory Group of 16 diverse climate leaders, who are based in 12 U.S. states and two countries and in private and public practice and academia. The Group consists of nine members who identify as women, seven as men, two as Black, four as Asian and Asian American, one as Latina, and one as Native American.
“ASLA believes equity needs to be at the center of climate action, because we know climate change will disproportionately impact underserved and historically marginalized communities. It is important that the group guiding the Climate Action Plan and the future of the profession mirrors the diversity of the landscape architecture community and its breadth of educational and practice areas,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO.
Advisory Group members include:
Monique Bassey, ASLA, Marie Bickham Chair, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Scott Bishop, ASLA, RLA, Principal, BLD | Bishop Land Design, Quincy, Massachusetts
Keith Bowers, FASLA, RLA, PWS, Founding Principal, Biohabitats, Charleston, South Carolina
Pippa Brashear, ASLA, RLA, Resilience Principal, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Meg Calkins, FASLA, FCELA, Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, PhD, PLA, LEED AP, Program Head and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Urban Design, and Environmental Design, The Design School, Arizona State University, and President-Elect, Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA), Tempe, Arizona
Jose de Jesus Leal, ASLA, PLA, IA, Native Nation Building Studio Director, MIG, Inc., Sacramento, California
Kate Orff, FASLA, Professor, Columbia University GSAPP & Columbia Climate School, and Founder, SCAPE Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, New York, New York
Jean Senechal Biggs, ASLA, Transportation Planning Manager, City of Beaverton, Portland, Oregon
Adrian Smith, FASLA, Staten Island Team Leader, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, New York, New York
Matt Williams, ASLA, Planner, City of Detroit Planning & Development Department (PDD), Detroit, Michigan
Dou Zhang, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Shanghai Office, Sasaki, Shanghai, China
In 2021, ASLA joined with Architecture 2030 to call for the landscape architecture, planning, architecture, development, and construction professions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their projects and operations by 50-65 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2040.
It’s the first Gold certification in Washington, D.C., and largest project in the capital to receive a human wellbeing-focused WELL Certification
ASLA has been awarded WELL Certification at the Gold level for its Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, becoming the first WELL Certified Gold-rated project in Washington and the largest WELL Certified project to date in the nation’s capital. The prestigious WELL Certification is awarded by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) through IWBI’s WELL Building Standard (WELL), which is the premier building standard to focus on enhancing people’s health and well-being through the buildings where we live, work and play.
“ASLA pursued WELL Certification because of our commitment to our members, our staff and our community, and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “ASLA is founded on the premise that good design leads to healthier, more sustainable and equitable environments, and we are grateful for the opportunity to partner and lead in advancing initiatives like the WELL Building Standard.”
Created through seven years of rigorous research and development working with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals, the WELL Building Standard is a performance-based certification system that marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based scientific research. The ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture earned the distinction based on seven categories of building performance: Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.
ASLA worked with architecture firm Gensler and landscape architecture firm Oehme van Sweden to build a new Center that embodies the values of the profession and the organization.
The project integrates new construction into the existing space and footprint; captures and reuses stormwater runoff; maximizes daylight within the space; increases occupant comfort and wellness; provides flexible, collaborative work spaces; and models environmental values, with a focus on improving indoor air quality, lighting, nourishment, and promoting active lifestyles.
To ensure opportunities for interaction with living things and natural surroundings, a biophilia plan describes how the Center incorporates nature through environmental elements, lighting, and space layout.
Project features that helped ASLA achieve its WELL Certified Gold rating include:
A range of air-quality steps, including filtration, increased ventilation, and volatile organic compound reduction;
Optimal water quality through the use of filtration techniques and periodic water quality testing;
Enhanced natural lighting for all occupants through the creation of an atrium, circadian lighting design and low-glare workstation design;
Fitness opportunities that promote active lifestyles; and
Materials and furnishings selections that optimize comfort and cognitive and mental health and that evoke nature in their design.
WELL is grounded in a body of evidence-based research that explores the connection between the buildings where we spend approximately 90 percent of our time, and the health and well-being impacts on the people inside these buildings. To be awarded WELL Certification by IWBI, the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture underwent rigorous testing and a final evaluation carried out by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which is the third-party certification body for WELL, to ensure it met all WELL Certified Gold performance requirements.
The ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture has long been committed to innovative design features that promote health and wellness and environmental sustainability. The Center features a green roof, one of the first of its kind built in 2005; a green canopy; a side garden designed by Oehme van Sweden, which includes a 700-gallon rainwater cistern used for irrigation.
Numerous lines of research demonstrate the mental and physical benefits of green space for people, which is one of the reasons landscape architects seek to integrate high-quality green space into office environments.
GGN’s Design for Umekita Park in Osaka, Japan Is Under Construction – 06/27/2022, Archinect
“Seattle-based landscape architecture firm GGN’s design for an urban park in Osaka, Japan is now under construction. This public/private collaboration is focused on creating sustainable urban public spaces and ecosystems that realize quality of life improvements for residents and visitors to Osaka, Japan.”
Where Did All of the Public Benches Go? – 06/27/2022, Arch Daily
“The design and functionality of public spaces in cities are always under scrutiny. But now a new issue and one that lives at a smaller scale is starting to arise- where did all of the public seats go?”
The Living City: Weaving Nature Back Into the Urban Fabric – 06/23/2022, Yale Environment 360
“Urban ecologist Eric Sanderson focuses on the natural history of cities. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he explains why recovering and restoring streams, salt marshes, and woodlands should be a vital part of how cities adapt to climate change in the 21st century.”
He’s Turning Dodger Stadium into a World-Class Garden, One Native Plant at a Time – 06/23/2022, Sunset Magazine
“It took five years for Perea and his crew to wholly reimagine and replant the hillsides and concrete planters, and meet the requirements for official accreditation from Botanic Gardens Conservation International. But today, the former hodgepodge of geraniums and petunias, ivy and lantana is now home to dozens of California natives, dotted with succulents, complete with a ‘tequila garden’ brimming with spiky agaves.”
Designer Julia Watson on Reaching the Age of the Symbiocene – 06/16/2022, Metropolis
“[Watson’s] 2019 book, Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism, spotlighted nature-based infrastructures that have been honed over millennia, from the Living Root Bridges of the Khasis people in India to the floating island homes of the Ma’dan in Iraq, made from qasab reeds. As the creative world searches for planet-positive design solutions in the face of climate change, the book shows they have existed for centuries but have been overlooked.”
HGA and Nelson Byrd Woltz Complete Design Refresh at Monticello’s Burial Ground for Enslaved People – 06/16/2022, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated mountaintop plantation was designed and inhabited by the third president of the United States from 1770 until his death in 1826. The Burial Ground serves as a final resting place for an estimated 40 enslaved African people who lived and toiled on the (originally) 5,000-acre plantation, cultivating tobacco and later wheat.”
Landslide 2022 Brings Under-threat Olmsted Landscapes into Focus — 02/15/22, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Today, more than 200 Olmsted-designed landscapes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many are designated as National Historic Landmarks. And although the Olmsted name brings with it a high level of prestige and recognition it does not, as noted by TCLF president and CEO Charles A. Birnbaum, guarantee any sort of invincibility.”
Olmsted’s Legacy, Bringing People Together Through Landscape Architecture — 02/11/22, The Pilot
“‘Olmsted saw the capability of landscape design to have beneficial impacts, whether it is physical health or mental health. He viewed landscape design as a way to bring people together,’ said Dede Petri, president and CEO of the National Association for Olmsted Parks.”
The Untold Story of Super Bowl LVI Stadium in Los Angeles— 02/07/22, Architectural Digest
“The landscape design will allow residents year-round access to the areas outside the stadium itself, introducing new shared spaces in a city that lacks equitable access to public space. ‘This is a destination for the community,’ says [Mia] Lehrer, [founder of Studio-MLA]. ‘It’s not just a place to see a football game or to go shopping; it’s an environment for people to come and be with community.'”
NYC’s Park Avenue Medians Are Getting a Face-Lift— 02/07/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“New York City’s Department of Transportation plans to hire a landscape architect to reinvent the malls that divide Park Avenue along the 11 blocks from Grand Central to East 57th Street. Councilmember Keith Powers, who represents the area, says he expects the request for proposals to be sent out in the coming months. The renovations will proceed in stages and likely won’t be completed for at least 20 years.”
“Our climate is in crisis. Social and racial injustice issues continue to go unaddressed. The pandemic is forcing us to rethink public space,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “Landscape architects aren’t just designing resilient, sustainable solutions for all these problems – they’re designing the public policies necessary to support that vital work.”
The report makes specific, actionable policy recommendations in four major areas:
Applying STEM-related design principles to protect communities.
Addressing climate change through sustainable, resilient design.
Supporting green community infrastructure solutions.
Promoting racial, social, and environmental justice in design.
“The pandemic has revealed now more than ever the value of public open spaces: we are human beings and need to be outside and with other human beings,” said Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, CEO of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). “These policy recommendations provide overdue support to enable landscape architects to design healthy, accessible and equitable outdoor places for people to connect with nature and each other, and rebuild the public realm infrastructure.”
“Landscape architects play a vital and irreplaceable role in the design of the built environment. It’s time their recommendations for how that design is governed are heard and implemented,” Carter-Conneen added. “ASLA urges the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress to review these recommendations and begin the process of implementing them.”
ASLA and our partners look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and the new Congress on implementing these policy recommendations that will lead to vibrant, resilient and just communities across the nation.
The American Society of Landscape Architects compiled a comprehensive series of specific, actionable policy recommendations designed to give landscape architects a seat at the table and support for their vital work. The report is broken down into four sections.
The first, Landscape Architects Apply STEM to Protect the Public, outlines the measures necessary to assist landscape architects in meeting the economic demands and challenges facing our nation.
Recommendations in this section include:
Support continued state licensure of highly complex technical professions, including landscape architecture, to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
Provide targeted and sustained COVID-19 relief for small businesses, including landscape architecture firms.
Appoint landscape architects to key positions throughout the Biden-Harris administration, including within the Departments of Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture, and in the Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, the U.S. Access Board, and others.
Include landscape architecture on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Designated Degree Program List.
The second section, Landscape Architects Lead in Climate Solutions, focuses on policy solutions that support landscape architects’ work to design resilient, sustainable spaces that help communities mitigate and adapt to the effects of the ongoing climate crisis.
Recommendations in this section include:
Create a comprehensive, science-based climate action plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
Establish adaptation and mitigation strategies using natural systems to make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
Protect underserved communities from climate and environmental injustices.
Adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative® (SITES®) for all federal projects.
Reverse rules, regulations, and policies from the Trump administration that weaken environmental protections and ignore climate change, specifically involving the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) and the Waters of the U.S.( WOTUS).
The third section, Landscape Architects Transform Community Infrastructure, outlines policies to encourage the designing and building of community infrastructure projects in a way that fosters sustainable development, generates jobs, encourages healthy lifestyles, and creates resilient, equitable, and economically vibrant communities.
Recommendations in this section center around the following goals:
Upgrade to a multimodal transportation network.
Fix our nation’s water management systems.
Recognize public lands, parks, and open space as “critical infrastructure.”
Design resilient communities.
The fourth and final section, Landscape Architects Seek Racial, Social, and Environmental Justice, provides specific recommendations that seek to address the inequities that harm underserved communities, including communities of color, low-income populations, and Tribal and Indigenous communities across the country.
Recommendations in this section include:
Work with Congress to codify Executive Order 12898, so that it is permanent law for federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse health and environmental effects of agency actions on low-income and minority communities.
Join stakeholders across the country in advancing the tenets of the Environmental Justice for All Act (H.R. 5986), which help to ensure that all communities are protected from pollution and that all voices are heard in the federal environmental decision-making.
Consider policies that promote design techniques as a tool to address racial, environmental, and social justice for all.
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) announces the 2020 Professional and Student Award winners. The ASLA Awards represent the highest honor in the profession of landscape architecture.
Chosen from 567 submissions, this year’s 31 Professional Award winners represent the best of landscape architecture in the General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, and Research categories. In addition, a single Landmark Award is presented each year.
Chosen from 560 submissions, this year’s 35 Student Award winners represent a bright and more inclusive future of the landscape architecture profession in the General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, Student Collaboration, and Student Community Service categories.
“ASLA’s Professional and Student Awards programs celebrate the best of our profession today, and the brightest hope for the future,” said ASLA President Wendy Miller, FASLA.
“From making sure Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as well as other underserved individuals and communities prepare for the many challenges of the climate crisis – this year’s projects clearly demonstrate how landscape architects are designing a future that addresses the biggest problems facing our world.”
All Professional and Student Award recipients, their clients, and advisors will be honored at the awards presentation ceremony held virtually this fall.
Background on the ASLA Awards Programs
Each year, the ASLA Professional Awards honor the best in landscape architecture from around the globe. Winners of these prestigious awards are chosen by a jury that represents the breadth of the profession, including private, public, institutional, and academic practice, and exemplify diversity in professional experience, geography, gender, and ethnicity. Submissions are judged blind.
Professional Awards are presented in seven categories: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, and the Landmark Award. In each of the first five categories, the Jury may select one Award of Excellence and any number of Honor Awards. It is not guaranteed that an Award of Excellence will be selected each year, as it is up to the jury’s discretion. Only one Landmark Award is presented each year.
This year’s Professional Jury included: Jose Alminana, FASLA (Chair); Jane Berger; Ujijji Davis, ASLA; Mark Hough, FASLA; Mark Johnson, FASLA; Kathleen John-Alder, FASLA; Mia Lehrer, FASLA; Tanya Olson, ASLA; and Robert Rogers.
Student Awards are presented in eight categories: General Design, Urban Design, Residential Design, Analysis & Planning, Research, Communications, Student Collaboration and Student Community Service. Like the Professional Awards, the jury may select one Award of Excellence and any number of Honor Awards. It is not guaranteed that an Award of Excellence will be selected each year, as it is up to the jury’s discretion.
This year’s Student Jury included: Terry Guen-Murray, FASLA (Chair); Adam Arvidson, FASLA; Lucia Athens, ASLA; Cermetrius L. Bohannon, ASLA; Jonathon Geels, ASLA; Rikerrious Geter, Associate ASLA; Luis Gonzalez, ASLA; Melissa Henao-Robledo, ASLA; Ernest C. Wong, FASLA.
Structures of Coastal Resilience, a new book by landscape architect Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, engineer Guy Nordenson, and architect Julia Chapman, draws on years of research in design, art, policy, and engineering to argue for a new vision of our coasts. As an analysis of trends in representation, mapping, and coastal design work, the book more than justifies its existence. But it is the thought paid to the evolution of these subjects over time that affords the reader a new view of coasts and establishes Structures as a significant contribution to the body of research on coastal resilience.
Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman writes in the book’s introduction that “there is no bigger challenge today than the management of coastal ecologies.” Landscape architects have laudably embraced this challenge and the attendant challenges of environmental and social justice, with no more recent and prominent national example than the Resilient by Design: Bay Area competition. Structures’ authors have concerned themselves with questions of coastal resilience for over a decade — and much of their own design work is featured in the book. The resulting research spans ecology, policy-making, engineering, and design, all of which contribute the physical and institutional structures of resilience.
For someone unfamiliar with the topic of resilience or wondering why the treatment of our coasts needs addressing, the authors’ premise is clear. Our attitude toward the coast has generally been to seek steady conditions. But ecological resilience theory, along with our own observations of this centuries’ worst flooding events, proves that the steady state is a myth. Ecosystems are in constant flux between states. Our coastal works should reflect this reality, with design leading the way.
In order to do so, landscape architects must learn how to better represent the dynamism of the coast. Historically, landscape architects, engineers, and cartographers have relied on motifs of the hydrological systems as static, with a defined line between water and land. This in turn has contributed to our proclivity for sea walls and levees for flood defenses.
Dynamic representations suggest and inspire dynamic treatments of the coast. The authors mine recent history for examples of dynamic representation, from Harold Fisk’s Map of Ancient Courses of the Mississippi River Belt to coastal section drawings produced by landscape architects Anu Mathur and Dilip da Cunha. These drawings do away with the water/land boundary in favor of a gradient of conditions that shifts and pulses over time.
The authors provide a rich exploration of that gradient, its qualities and potential, in the chapter “Reimagining the Floodplain.” As they do with the subject of each chapter, the authors trace the history of ideas and attitudes towards the floodplain and evaluate new methods for engaging it as a site of design. The ideas profiled are speculative within reason, such as landscape architects Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, and Rosetta Elkins’ coastal forests for Narragansett Bay, which faces issues of coastal flooding and saltwater intrusion. The strategy for increasing resilience varies along the bay’s length, but generally relies on the planting of forests and shrub lands that attenuate high winds, reduce erosion, and shield community assets.
The strategies Van Valkenburgh and Elkins employ also involve moving community assets out of the floodplain. This strategic retreat from the coast will become more common as climate change exacerbates flood events. The authors also describe a strategy of adaptation through vertical retreat, which sees the lifting of buildings and critical infrastructure above the floodplain and, in phases, replaces lots and alleys with a system of canals and protective wetlands. Such strategies will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but what emerges out of the book is a portfolio of ideas and novel thinking that one can imagine being adapted to certain contexts.
In the last couple of decades, the democratization of visualization technologies and data have helped to dissolve the boundaries between the disciplines involved with coastal resilience. This has provided landscape architects with exciting new ways of engaging with and designing for coastal environments. Using hydraulic modeling, bathymetric and topographical information, and environmental data, landscape architects can rapidly image an environment and the impact of proposed design interventions on that environment.
One crude example of this is the water tank model, which the authors used to evaluate a proposed intervention in Palisade Bay. While the method isn’t specific to the bay, the authors were able to design a series of wave-attenuating land forms, visualizing their effect on the Bay’s hydraulic conditions. The authors evaluate the impact of these and other technologies throughout the book.
Structures of Coastal Resilience is an excellent collation of current design research and trends related to our coasts. And through historical analysis, ecological research, and an exploration of representation, the book suggests new ways of seeing and responding to the opportunities our coasts provide.
Hitesh Mehta, FASLA, is president of HM Design, which has completed planning, architecture, and landscape architecture projects in more than 60 countries. He is an international expert in sustainable tourism, including wildlife conservancy planning and eco-lodge development. Mehta is also the author of Authentic Ecolodges (Harper Design).
In more than 60 countries, you have worked on some of the finest sustainable tourism planning and eco-lodge projects in the world, including the Crosswaters Ecolodge in China, which won two ASLA professional awards. National Geographic has called you a pioneer of sustainable tourism. What are the top three lessons you have learned from your many projects working with local and indigenous communities?
Lesson number one: Never judge people from the way they look. Indigenous people have lived on their land for thousands of years. Through storytelling and personal experiences that have been passed over generations, they have built knowledge and wisdom crucial to every project.
Lesson number two: Empower local people from day one, especially women and children. At home, women make a lot of the decisions, and youth are the future. Bringing them into a project on day one helps ensure a sustainable project. You want to give them ownership. It’s a ground-up approach rather than top-down.
Lesson number three: No matter how much of an international expert you are, no matter how much research you have done, and how much knowledge you have acquired, always go into every project without an ego. Go with good listening skills first. Once you’ve heard local peoples aspirations, needs, etc.; gathered on-site information; walked the site with the locals; and have conducted a metaphysical site analysis, slowly share what you can bring to the table, making sure you let them know what they bring to the table is equally important.
Indigenous communities are in the front lines in the fight against climate change. How do you empower them in their fight to protect endangered ecosystems and their own livelihoods? Are there any projects that serve as models?
Indigenous communities, especially in the less developing world, are greatly affected by climate change. A lot of these communities live in the tropics. Especially in Africa, drought and the lack of drinking water are big issues. This in turn, causes food security problems. In Kenya, where I am still a citizen, the Maasai look at their cattle as their economic lifeline. That’s what keeps them going. If there is drought, there is no grass. There’s nothing to feed the cattle, and it can become a serious issue, because this is their security.
A project that serves as an exemplary model is one in which I led a team of local Kenyan consultants and where we worked together with the clients — the Koiyaki Maasai community — to help create an ecotourism and conservation destination called Naboisho Wildlife Conservancy. Previous to our intervention, the community had subdivided their 50,000-acre land into 50-acre parcels owned by 500 families. But every family had their cattle and goats, which caused the land to be overgrazed. Lack of grass and presence of cattle kept all the wild animals away.
The Maasai decided to consolidate all their land and brought in private lodge operators — eco-tourism companies — as a way to generate income for them. The Maasai all moved to neighboring lands they also owned. The private partners contracted us as protected area ecotourism planners, and, together with the Maasai, tourism and conservation stakeholders, we created an integrated sustainable tourism, biodiversity, and grazing master plan for the conservancy.
With five small twelve-room tents and lodges, money started flowing directly into every Maasai’s home at the end of each month via their mobile cell-phones. They no longer had to rely solely on cattle for their livelihood. Wild animals started coming back, because cattle mainly grazed in neighboring areas. And the tourists are paying big bucks to have quality guided safari experiences. Creating a wildlife conservancy was a win/win for everyone: the tourists, the private partners, flora and fauna and of course the Maasai and their cattle. During droughts, cattle are only allowed into the conservancy in certain controlled areas. The conservancy fees provide the Maasai community with a sustainable livelihood and ensure the conservation of the wildlife in this vital corridor of the Maasai Mara ecosystem.
As populations grow around the world, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, human and wildlife conflicts are becoming more prevalent. How can we protect endangered species while also ensuring people’s livelihoods? Are there models that show the way?
There are many models, particularly in Africa, and it has become mainstream to go in this direction. A project that I worked on many years ago that is still a good case study is the Virunga Massif Trans-Boundary protected area. Virunga Massif straddles and borders of three East and Central African countries: Uganda, Rwanda, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Each country has a national park along their respective borders. This region protects the only remaining populations in the world of mountain gorillas. The parks are bordered by dense populations of local peoples, and there are human-wildlife conflicts with gorillas going out into the fields. We prepared an integrated sustainable tourism and biodiversity master plan for the whole region. When we began the master plan in 2005, there were only 600 mountain gorillas, and the latest count is 1,004!
Apart from conserving important habitat, the master plan also proposed several eco-lodges at the edge of the parks. All of them have now been built and are financially successful. The demand to see the mountain gorillas is so high that eco-tourists are paying $1,500 for one hour to be with these great apes. There’s a one-year waiting list!
What’s great is that some money is channeled straight to local communities, which now see the importance of maintaining the gorillas’ habitat. The communities no longer take firewood from the forest because they earn a living from gorilla tourism and the eco-lodges bring in a lot of money from guests, with part of the profits used to benefit these communities.
A heart-warming part of the master plan just got realized five months ago on the Uganda side of the Virunga Massif in Mgahinga National Park. The Batwa, indigenous peoples, who used to live in the forest but had been chased out when the National Park was created in 1991, have now been re-located to a new village at the edge of the park and act as guides, taking visitors into the forest in the National Park, and showing them about their lives and connections with the forest. An eco-lodge where I had provided site planning consultancy, funded the Batwa village and Visitor Center, so the Batwa community could share their culture and live closer to the forest instead of the nearby urban town of Kisoro.
You have said we cannot have true sustainability without incorporating the spiritual. This belief is central to your metaphysical or sixth-sense approach to planning and designing projects, which you have also trained other planners and designers to apply. What is the core idea you want people to understand?
For the longest time, pragmatic environmentalists have been talking about the triple bottom line of sustainability — environmental, economic, and social. But in my work, I have found that without respecting the fourth element — spiritual — one cannot have sustainability. What do I mean by spiritual? Spirituality is the energy embodied in any place. The metaphysics of a place. The intangible aspects that cannot be measured by modern science. We need to respect this embodied energy to create a sense of place. The sacred space.
Feng Shui is a well-used example of the spiritual aspects of sustainability — the yin and the yang, the chi, and how to use that energy to create an amazing experience in which you have a spiritual connection with the site. Similarly, for over 8,000 years, the Indians have been applying principles of design, layout, measurements, ground preparation, space arrangement, and spatial geometry called Vastu Shastra, which is even older than Feng Shui. Vastu Shastra is the ancient Indian science of harmony and prosperous living by eliminating negative energies and enhancing positive energies.
Native Americans also have a strong spiritual connection with their lands. When they take you on a walk of their country, they will point at a hill and say “this is our sacred hill” and when you look around, there are probably several others that look the same. So why is that hill sacred and not the others? It’s because there is a sacred energy embodied in that particular hill. My job as a landscape architect is to work with indigenous communities, so they can identify all those areas sacred to them. And then protect them.
If the clients do not believe in these traditional ways of looking at the land, I propose the use of each one of our six senses to immerse into the site to understand the energy. Connect deeply to the land through the ears, mouth, eyes, nose, fingers, but most importantly through the sixth sense: when you become a part of the site and feel its energy. That is the crucial element of trying to create a project that’s sustainable, but also which creates a beautiful sense of place.
As part of your work of Landscape Architects Without Borders, you have provided pro-bono planning and design services to aboriginal tribes in Australia and other communities. How do you enable them to incorporate their landscape spirituality into a contemporary place designed for themselves but also tourists?
We worked with the Quandamooka peoples of Queensland in Australia. They were the first aboriginal tribe that managed to get their land back from the white government in an area so close to a major city; Brisbane in this case. The land they got back was part of an island and has the second most popular camping sites in Australia.
However, the aboriginal peoples do not have camping site management experience, so we came in to help them build an ecotourism experience that would help them share their culture with guests and help make more money than before. We designed and built two glamping eco-shacks as examples of what they can achieve with enhanced camping experiences.
In the gardens, we proposed for the planting of bush tucker plants. The aboriginal peoples, who live in the outback have these special plants they eat called bush tucker. With their knowledge and wisdom, we created a beautiful indigenous garden that included both bush tucker and medicinal plants.
You are a proponent of ego-less design, which is characterized by a deep respect for the environment and all of its inhabitants, existing cultures, and vernacular styles. Can you explain how you came across this design philosophy? What about your upbringing, your religious heritage, shaped that?
My childhood has heavily influenced the work I do in landscape architecture. My upbringing is in the philosophy of Jainism, which is one of the four main philosophies that came out of India. It’s by far the least known, because Jains don’t believe in preaching.
One of the main tenets of this philosophy is a Sanskrit concept called Ahimsa, which means non-violence to fellow beings, and non-violence to all other beings as well. In my family, we’ve been vegetarians for at least 3,000 years. The respect is so deep for other beings that Jain monks in India sweep the floor before they walk so they do not step on and kill any ants.
In true Jainism, they believe plants have feelings. In fact, modern science is confirming this, but my ancestors have believed this since 1,000 BC. True Jains don’t eat anything that grows below the ground — no potatoes or carrots — because every time you pick that plant, it’s dead. So you only pick a vegetable or fruit from a tree that continues living after you picked what you want. That is deep respect, even to plants. It’s all about low-impact living. This is the conservation ethic I practice in my work.
My projects are low-impact designs that respect everything. I practice a non-homocentric approach to planning, where everything is equal. You can call it vegan or ahimsa design and planning. I design non-violent spaces. For example, I identify all native species and make sure none of them are cut. And in all our projects, we only specify native plants.
And, personally, I have been practicing a vegan lifestyle for 13 years.
Lastly, you have called yourself a “holistic, contextual designer.” How do you think this is different from being a planner or landscape architect?
For me, there’s a big difference between holistic and contextual design. Holistic is when in my projects I look at animals and plants as my clients, too. So, when human clients come to me, I tell them: I see you as half of my clients, but the other half are the animals and plants. And when I perform a beautiful marriage of the two, we will have a holistic yet sustainable project.
Local communities are an important part of the holistic process. I involve them from the beginning. Local consultants also bring in amazing knowledge and wisdom. So, I consider the local consultants and communities, fauna, flora, and, of course, the clients’ financial needs, because a project has to be profitable for it to function. That is the holistic side.
I also look at myself as a contextual designer. I like to create projects in context with their cultural and physical environments. For me, placing in a glass, aluminum, and concrete building in the middle of a remote area with rich cultural architectural heritage is not contextual. My office carries out research both off-site and on-site in order to discover the local vernacular styles before starting on any project. We use a landscape design approach called the “continuity of the vernacular.”
Despite the weight of that assessment, a panel on climate action and landscape architecture at the ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia gave reasons to be hopeful and presented new tools that may help landscape architects reduce their climate impact.
“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture. “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”
Rinner stressed the need for landscape architects to become more involved with discussions around public policy. “We all have to advocate–that’s the first step,” she said. “If we can’t change policies, so many things will just continue as is.”
“After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification, and unprecedented rates of species extinction,” the statement reads.
“The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bio-regional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes.”
“We’ve got to be tougher and better at doing this,” Schwartz said. “It’s not enough to be a good designer, but an active designer, to take leadership in the era of climate change and stay relevant in an ever changing world.”
LAF is also supporting leadership on climate change through its fellowship program, which began in 2017 and provides funding for active professionals to pursue innovative research ideas. As an LAF Fellow, Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential
“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”
Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”
Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.
“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.
“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”
Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdownproject.
And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”
Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.
“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”
“ASLA or the LAF should do that — there’s no reason why we can’t!” said Schwartz.
“We all have to stand up for what this profession is founded on,” Schwartz said. “This is the foundation of who we are. This century is the golden age of landscape architecture. The world really needs you. It needs what you know and what you believe in. Now is the time.”
The work of landscape architect Steve Martino, FASLA, derives its interest and relevance from a simple notion: the desert landscape should be celebrated, not ignored. This notion is expertly manifested in the 21 gardens featured in the new book Desert Gardens of Steve Martinoby Caren Yglesias, Affil. ASLA, an author and landscape architecture educator, and photographed by Steve Gunther.
Gunther’s photographs give great insight into how a desert garden can not only be robust but even lush. It’s Martino’s brisk and charming introduction, however, that provides the book’s greatest insight into the catalogued projects.
Martino came to landscape by way of architecture, which he studied at Arizona State University in the 1960s. It was through this education that Martino says he experienced a set of epiphanies.
The first epiphany was that landscape was mostly eyewash. A client could spend tremendous amounts of money and achieve a sub-par result.
Another was: why weren’t all architects also landscape architects? It seemed irresponsible to leave the site design to someone else. Martino pursued this instinct, working for architectural firms on their site designs.
And, lastly — as for the native desert plants he was told to avoid using — Martino suspected they held more potential than expected.
This suspicion was confirmed by Ron Gass, a nursery-owner with an encyclopedic knowledge of native desert plants, whom Martino holds in great esteem. Martino, out of a job at one point during the 1970s, went to work at Gass’ nursery and learned as much as he could.
In the meantime, Martino marketed himself as a designer of “outdoor space,” a term many of the architects he interviewed with found unnerving. Much like the desert gardens Martino wished to promulgate, outdoor space seemed an oxymoron.
Martino persisted and received opportunities to expand the use of desert plants in his work, “connecting a project to the adjacent desert.” Their use did much more, Martino soon realized. They lent his projects an ecological intelligence and environmental stability that only proved more prescient in the following decades.
Martino’s work often juxtaposes desert vegetation with architectural structures, a relationship he describes as “weeds and walls.” One such example is the Palo Cristi garden, where the heavy influence of architect Luis Barragán, as requested by the garden’s owners, can be seen. The simple, clean lines of Martino’s walls frame and complement spindly, spiky plants that seem like colorful guests at a garden party. Sun is a design material that Martino deploys or limits in turn.
Martino often plays up the space demanded by desert vegetation — the effect is to put certain specimens on display. And sculptural works are used to reinforce the character of these plants. In the Baja Garden in Paradise Valley, Arizona, steel rebar evoking woody desert plants crowns a fireplace.
In other instances of Martino’s work, the hand of the designer is adroitly hidden behind a more naturalistic planting scheme. The Greene-Sterling Garden, also in Paradise Valley, Arizona, features desert trees that were allowed to grow to the ground, much the way they would grow in their natural habitat. This also did away with the need for understory plants.
When Martino started out, he had to argue for the incorporation of environmental intelligence such as this into his design work. The ensuing decades have proved Martino right.