The biennial award of $100,000 will include two years of public engagement focused on Yu’s work, ideas, and the state of contemporary landscape architecture.
The prize is named after German-born Canadian landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, FASLA, who passed away in 2021 at age 99.
TCLF states that the prize is bestowed on a recipient who is “exceptionally talented, creative, courageous, and visionary” and has “a significant body of built work that exemplifies the art of landscape architecture.”
The seven-person international prize jury, chaired by Elizabeth Mossop, FASLA, wrote: “A brilliant and prolific designer, Kongjian Yu is also a force for progressive change in landscape architecture around the world. Through built works, lectures, publications, teaching, and a series of celebrated letter to the leaders of China, he has striven to direct landscape practices away from a destructive confrontation with natural forces toward a more optimistic position of cooperation and adaptation.”
Yu said: “I deeply appreciate the jury for their brave decision to recognize my work, when there were so many talented nominees who I believe much deserve this prize. They include our fields’ well-established giants in developed countries, who have inspired my work.”
“I deeply believe that landscape architecture can and will play a key role in healing the planet. As Cornelia Oberlander stated: ‘Landscape architects must be leaders, especially in dealing with the effects of climate change.’”
Yu’s “sponge cities” concept is about using nature-based solutions to reduce widespread urban flooding brought on by development and climate change. These solutions act as “sponges soaking up rainfall” instead of containing and conveying water through traditional concrete infrastructure.
Sponges can be layered and take a variety of forms: “constructed wetlands, greenways, parks, canopy tree and woodland protection, rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavements, bioswales, and other measures.”
Since then, more than 70 Chinese cities have implemented sponge policies and programs. The goal is that by 2030, 80% of the cities will absorb 70% of rainfall. This effort forms one of the planet’s most ambitious Mega Eco-Projects.
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, President and CEO of TCLF, said Yu’s ideas are “inspiring planners and decision makers in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, England, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, and elsewhere.”
Yu is the founder and leader of the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture and the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Peking University in Bejing. He is also founder and principal designer of Turenscape, a landscape architecture firm with more than 400 employees.
According to TCLF, Yu and his firm have built 600 projects in more than 200 cities; mostly in China, but also in France, Indonesia, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, and the U.S.
Once a make-shift garbage dump, Yu revitalized this landscape along the Tanghe River, weaving in diverse native plants and adding a “sinuous 1,640-feet-long (500-meter) red benchlike structure” that glows at night.
Yu transformed a bankrupt shipyard built in the 1950s into a 27-acre park that retains and repurposes machines, docks, and other industrial structures. “Yu believes in the retention of cultural landscape heritage, including industrial sites and working landscapes,” TCLF writes.
“One of the first ‘sponge cities’ projects to gain wide attention, this 80-acre (34.2-hectare) national urban wetland park was created from a dying wetland.” Yu built ponds and mounds, with native grasses, meadows, and silver birch trees accessible via pathways and elevated walkways.
A landfill lined with concrete flood walls became a 24.7 (10 hectare) “lush and biodiverse” mangrove park along the Sanya River. “Finger-like landforms with skywalks connect with pathways that lead to elevated pavilions.”
“One of the earliest and the most significant demonstration and multi-functional projects of the nationwide sponge city effort.” 168 acres (68 hectares) of polluted wetlands were restored and became a park that also integrates ponds, rice paddies, greenways, and coastal habitat into a “holistic sponge system.”
At two-thirds of an acre (.27-hectare), this small park in the Chinatown-International District Neighborhood features a bold red “metal gateway inspired by Asian paper cutting and folding traditions.” Yu partnered with the Seattle-based firm MIG | SvR to design a park with “multiple garden terraces, inspired by the rice paddies of Yu’s agrarian upbringing, and numerous gathering and performance spaces,” TCLF writes.
In the book Designed Ecologies: The Landscape Architecture of Kongjian Yu, (2012), William Saunders writes: “During the 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution … [Yu] grew up near an enchanting forest and a fish-filled creek, only to see the forest cut down and the creek become too polluted to support life. This helps explain the depth of his commitment to recreating and protecting natural abundance.”
“He suffered social ostracism in the countryside for having wealthy ancestors and then for being a ‘country bumpkin’ when he made it to the big city. This helps us understand his conviction that parks are to be enjoyed by all ranks of people.”
“He loved farming and was proud that his commune used every square meter of its land productively. This helps explain his revulsion to landscapes that are ‘merely’ ornamental.”
“He learned how to deploy scarce water resources and cultivate crops in ways that ensured their survival. And this helps us understand his will to create parks that are low-maintenance and ‘productive.’”
Hear from Yu himself, who reflects on his early life and inspirations:
Chris Hardy, ASLA, is senior associate at Sasaki and founder of Carbon Conscience. He is Co-chair of the ASLA Climate Action Committee Subcommittee on Carbon Drawdown and Biodiversity. He was a 2022-2023 Landscape Architecture Foundation Innovation and Leadership Fellow.
The purpose of Carbon Conscience is to make it easier to have an intuitive understanding of the climate impacts of design proposals. It’s designed for early-phase design work. It’s for landscape architects, architects, urban planners, and urban designers. It’s even for community advocates who may want to get a better grasp of the carbon potential of what’s being proposed.
For example, if there’s a multi-housing family development with multiple buildings and landscape, the designer of the project could sketch out architecture and landscape land uses and get a high-level understanding of the carbon impacts of building that project, focusing on the embodied carbon in construction.
Embodied carbon is what it takes to build the project; the carbon emitted to produce, ship to site, and install the construction materials. There’s also a way to tally biogenic stored carbon, which is the carbon locked up in things like wood materials, or sequestered carbon, which is the carbon drawn down out of the atmosphere by planting and restored ecosystems. We accounted for the probable carbon sequestered by living systems over a period of 60 years, to correlate with the typical lifecycle study period for buildings.
What we realized using Pathfinder, Tally, and other tools is you usually need detailed quantities of materials in a project before you can get a meaningful estimate of the global warming impacts of a given project. The problem with that is the biggest potential for change is in the earlier design phases, when maybe you’re fundamentally challenging or deciding what the framework of a project is.
What are some of the new features of Carbon Conscience v2 you’re excited about?
In version 2, we created an entirely new landscape baseline materials database. There are now over 140 different landscape materials with carbon factors that include mean values as well as low and high standard deviation. Carbon factors are how much carbon it takes to make a given material. For example, a carbon factor for concrete would be so many kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram of concrete. With version 2, we have a much more accurate and defensible tool.
We were also able to get user feedback from the version 1 beta testers. We realized we had two types of users. We have what I like to call the noodlers, who wanted to sketch something simple, test it, and see how things work. The second group were the deep dive users who wanted to gamify the tool. They wanted to use the tool more actively — to test, iterate, and get more sophisticated material options.
In Version 2, we’ve made things a lot easier for the noodlers. We’ve reconstructed the user experience to be more intuitive. We’re going to post new user tutorials. And we also made it more open to planners who might not be in technical drawing tools on a day-to-day basis. For the deep dive folks, we provided the ability to use a lot more materials and land use options, and the ability to edit assumptions for those land uses.
Carbon Conscience is a scale bigger than individual sites that might be put in the Pathfinder. And it’s a phase or two earlier.
In Pathfinder, you need to know how many square meters or square yards of different paving, furnishings, etc, and numbers of trees. You may not know that at a planning phase. You can use Carbon Conscience even before there’s a defined project to bid on, when you have a rough idea of what the project is or could be, and you want to evaluate options. Carbon Conscience is for planning and concept design phases only.
Once you go beyond those phases, it would be best, as a workflow, for landscape architects to transfer their project into Pathfinder. We’re working with Pamela to connect our APIs, so projects can graduate from Carbon Conscience into Pathfinder. And Pathfinder is going to refer to our dataset as they move forward with their updated version this coming year. We’re very closely linked with Pathfinder and collaborating with the Climate Positive Design team.
Carbon Conscience also has an architectural dataset sourced from the Carbon Leadership Forum. It’s at a whole building lifecycle analysis approach, averaged out by floor-level of resolution. And we’re going to be moving forward with collaborating with the Epic tool by EHDD in Version 3, which will be coming this fall.
You’ve used the Carbon Conscience platform to make smart planning and design decisions for the 600-acre Ellinikon Metropolitan Park in Athens, Greece, which will transform an abandoned airport into what will be the largest coastal park in Europe. You have stated the top three carbon reduction strategies of the project were: 1) swapping out imported soils for amended soils; 2) reducing the need for new concrete by using other materials; 3) reusing concrete found on site. How did you use the platform to figure this out?
When we started the Ellinikon, we had a high-level master plan for the park and public space authored by Foster Partners and their team. In the beginning of our engagement, we were asked to create a concept plan. We started by mapping out the Foster plan in Carbon Conscience, using that as a benchmark. We quickly realized that it was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for us to be climate neutral before our restored ecosystems would hit their carbon carrying capacity.
I wanted to define that term, because I think it’s something that we all need to be aware of as landscape architects. The carbon carrying capacity for an ecosystem is how much carbon an ecosystem can reasonably store and sequester by the time it hits maturity. In most ecosystems, as they age and become fully mature, they store less and less carbon. They become relatively static carbon stores. But that’s not true of all ecosystems. Wetlands are different, and I can talk about that for a whole hour. But for Ellinikon, this was critical, as Mediterranean ecosystems generally store and sequester much less carbon than temperate or tropical humid forests.
What we realized in our early sketches of Ellinikon is that we needed to change business as usual. We started looking at different strategies in Carbon Conscience, which gave us a way to include the client in the discussion. We even had the client come into the tool themselves, so they could play with the assumptions and start tweaking them with us in workshops. They became personally invested in the development of the project carbon goals, and that gave our team the social capital to challenge business as usual assumptions in site design as we moved forward into technical documentation phases.
As we used the tool, we decided to hugely reduce the amount of paving and increase the area dedicated to restoration style planting, as opposed to gardenesque planting or lawns. Now in the final design, the only lawns in the project have to work for a living. They’re for active uses, sports events. Ornamental horticulture is almost entirely defined by aromatic gardens that are passively maintained in that climate. And about 70 percent of the site is now restoration-style ecology.
We also used it to challenge our material assumptions. If we were swapping out our concrete hardscapes for resin-bonded aggregate hardscape or a salvaged concrete hardscape, that gave us huge savings.
In the design guidelines released with Carbon Conscience, you outlined seven principles designers can follow to reduce the climate impacts of their projects. One is to prioritize reuse. How can landscape architects reuse materials they find on existing sites they may be redesigning? And what do you think is needed to make reuse more cost effective at smaller scales?
Cost efficiency is totally dependent on the quality and scale of the material. In some cases, it can be a lot cheaper if you’re just resurfacing asphalt pavement and not resetting it. If you’re just re-setting existing cobbles in a particular streetscape, that’s extremely cost effective. It gets trickier when you’re doing substantial amounts of work to the material itself. For example, if you want salvaged concrete — let’s say crushed salvaged concrete for riprap in a very small site — that might not be cost feasible.
If you have a site an acre or more, specialized equipment like concrete crushers can be viable. But in the United States, we’re already diverting over 50 percent of our construction waste to some kind of salvaged facility, and that includes lot of concrete work. There’s already some efficiency where you can salvage aggregates coming from demolition debris in most major metropolitan areas.
A big part of reuse is also thinking about the end-of-life of our designs and materials. It’s a lot easier to crush, salvage, and reuse, or up-cycle or down-cycle concrete if it doesn’t have steel reinforcing in it. Without steel reinforcement, you can start cutting it like stone. If we think about our concrete pavement profiles, maybe we make them a little thicker to avoid having steel in them, so that in the next generation of that concrete pavement, it’ll be a lot easier to salvage it for reuse.
In the guidelines you also call for using natural and locally-sourced materials wherever possible. What are the climate benefits of these approaches? And are there projects that have done this that inspire you?
When we can avoid emissions associated with the making of the material itself — like the emissions that go into making clinker for cement, smelting for metals, or complex hydro-chemical processes to make plastics — that dramatically reduces the carbon factors of the material itself.
When we specify natural materials, the material is there; it just needs to be cut, shaped, and moved. And those emissions can be a lot less. I’m talking about things like stone, aggregate, wood, bamboo, and rammed earth, which are naturally occurring and just need be manipulated to become construction products.
When we talk about locally-sourced materials, we’re avoiding the transportation carbon cost that regional or more distant materials can have. Unfortunately, in the United States almost all of our transportation for construction materials is generally truck, which can have the highest carbon factor of almost any typical transportation options. Local sourcing becomes a huge factor for landscapes in particular, because most of our materials are massive and come at a high carbon transportation cost.
Right now, I’m focused on our Ellinikon project in Greece where we are trying to locally source most of the materials on site. We have the benefit of having stone quarries less than 20 miles from the site. And we have the benefit of mining material on the site. There’s a wonderful opportunity when you think about sourcing local stone in particular, because usually you’re tapping into a vernacular, a material tradition. There are regional craftsmanship traditions people take pride in.
You also emphasize the value of nature-based solutions and promoting ecological preservation and restoration. How do healthy ecosystems and nature-based solutions create positive climate outcomes? Do biodiverse, ecologically-rich landscapes store more carbon?
Only in living systems do we have economically viable ways to draw carbon out of the atmosphere. Geoengineering solutions are speculative businesses. Trees and plants are very efficient at what they do. And it’s very hard for technology to replicate those processes in an economically viable way.
One of the great benefits of nature-based solutions is the co-benefits. Rain gardens not only contribute to stormwater management but reduce the fundamental need for grey infrastructure. They’re replacing the concrete pipes and catch basins. And in the right context, they’re a high-carbon sequestrating landscape. And when you start layering in biodiversity benefits, it becomes an even richer proposal.
Biodiversity is more of a correlation with carbon sequestration than a causation. For example, a Spartina salt marsh is not the most biodiverse planting design but it is super carbon sequestering. However, when you compare two different landscapes, the more structurally complex an ecosystem is — the more trophic levels, the more physical levels of living organisms, such an overstory, an understory, and rich mycorrhizal horizon in the soils — the more carbon it is going to store. And it will usually be more biodiverse than a structurally simplistic ecosystem. What we want is structural diversity and complexity; we want resilient, complex, adapted ecosystems.
Most kinds of forest have a carbon carrying capacity, but many wetlands and some prairie do not. Wetlands offer a linear rather than sigmoidal sequestration of carbon. Over the long-term, wetlands can be incredibly high performance from a carbon perspective. Maybe the solution isn’t always planting trees to offset a project. Maybe it is protecting or investing in the restoration of a wetland or a prairie.
Historically marginalized and underserved communities are facing multiple challenges at once: a climate crisis; a health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19; and a racial equity crisis, driven by structural inequities.
One solution to these interconnected challenges is a Black Commons, which involves pooling collective land and resources to stabilize and empower Black communities and support their efforts to generate wealth, argued Kofi Boone, FASLA, the Joseph D. Moore Distinguished Professor at NC State University, during a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
After experiencing decades of redlining, urban renewal, gentrification, and displacement, Black communities can combat systemic issues by envisioning new communities that are mutually supportive.
Boone outlined a few key pillars that can bolster Black communities in their efforts to create commons:
“Recognition: recognizing and respecting another human, their status, and rights.
Reconciliation: acknowledging responsibility for harm and accelerating healing.
Reparation: restoring and sustaining the capability to live a fulfilling life.”
He then outlined some of the impacts on Black communities that have led him to push for bottom-up, community-driven solutions.
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, “I thought going to church and using proper English could carry you through systemic forces. But I have learned through research there were policies and decisions made so that some would benefit from the degradation of other people.”
For decades, in the 20th century, the federal government enabled the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation to “map every home in major cities, coding them by color.” Communities marked in red would “receive absolutely no loan. These redlined communities were also predominantly Black.”
In addition to being denied the ability to own property and grow generational wealth, members of redlined communities also didn’t benefit as much from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930s.
These programs led to street trees being planted across American cities, creating the deep shade canopies that characterize many neighborhoods today, along with significant investment in infrastructure. Boone said redlined communities didn’t receive that government investment, leading to hotter, more polluted places a century later.
Redlining also made these communities more vulnerable to top-down redevelopment schemes. They became the target of waves of federal policies: urban renewal, de-industrialization, planned shrinkage, mass incarceration, and gentrification. Over the decades, this has led Black communities to experience serial displacement, or “root shock,” as described by Dr. Mindy Fullilove, a psychiatrist and professor of urban policy and health at The New School.
This history leads us to 2020, which was the culmination of health, economic, and environmental crises — and also a racial equity crisis. “The murder of George Floyd led to the largest protest movement in human history. Racial equity came to the foreground because people were seeing a lynching in real time.”
Boone outlined projects he and landscape architecture colleagues at North Carolina State University have undertaken to advance a Black Commons:
The Bennehan and Cameron families once owned the largest plantation in North Carolina, with some 1,000 slaves on 30,000 acres. Much of that land, which Black Americans had involuntarily invested in for generations, has now been preserved as conservation easements on what was formerly the Stagville Plantation. That in effect has excluded Black communities from the opportunity to “own plantation land as a path to liberation.”
Working with Urban Community Agrinomics (UCAN), NC State is helping the Catawba Trail Farm on the former Snow Hill IV Plantation develop a vision for collective community stabilization and wealth generation through urban farming.
At the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum and State Historic Site in Sedalia, North Carolina, NC State landscape architecture professors and students have focused on how to revitalize a campus that was recently identified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a most endangered site. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a native of Boston who came to North Carolina and opened the largest college prep school for Black students in the south.
As part of their work with the museum, Boone and his students mapped the web of relationships emanating from the school, which included W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington. “If we don’t value these stories, then we can’t continue telling them.” Their designs outline a way to revitalize the campus as an artists’ retreat while also supporting on-going restoration efforts.
And in Princeville, North Carolina, NC State’s Coastal Dynamics Design Lab, led by Andy Fox, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning, has partnered with a historically Black community that took root in an area that regularly floods.
This was common: Whites would settle on high grounds, while Blacks often settled nearby in lower lying areas, often to be close to plantations where they worked. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Black communities often camped next to Union Armies for protection. One encampment became Freedom Hill, which is more of a symbolic name given it’s not on high ground. After the Freedom Hill community experienced catastrophic flooding, they needed a “long-term strategy to become resilient and thrive.”
Boone said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) came in to assist the community, but ended up “overloading them when they were in crisis, in a bad state.” NC State began facilitating conversations and created an accessible guide to help them better understand their options, which won an ASLA 2018 Professional Communications Honor Award. This grew into broader design-build project that involved landscape architecture students at the Princeville Elementary School, which then won an ASLA 2022 Student Community Service Award of Excellence.
And opportunities arose for a new mobile museum, after the Princeville Museum was damaged by flooding. Partnering with NC State architecture professor David Hill, architecture program students created a welcome center on wheels.
While Boone highlighted a number of inspiring projects that share land ownership and management and support wealth generation and cultural empowerment, one powerful example stood out: Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas.
In 1872, Reverend John Henry “Jack” Yates and other members of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church bought 10 acres of land for $800 in Houston, Texas. They sought to create a public space to celebrate Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery, Boone explained.
In 1916, the park was donated to the city of Houston and turned into a public park. From the 1920s to the 1940s, it was the sole park for the Black community in the city. The park fell into disrepair in the 1970s, but in the 2000s the revitalization process began. In 2013, the Freelon Group and M2L Associates, along with Perkins + Will, started $33 million in renovations, which were completed in 2017.
Emancipation Park is just one example of the positive ripple effects of shared ownership for community benefit.
A 600-acre park in development in Athens, Greece shows the value of prioritizing carbon. The Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is being designed by landscape architects at Sasaki to significantly increase carbon sequestration, avoid emissions, and reuse embodied carbon on a massive scale. Leveraging Sasaki’s Carbon Conscience App, Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder tool, and Atelier Ten‘s carbon analysis, the project will cut emissions by 45 percent in comparison with a business-as-usual scenario. By designing for the climate first, the project is expected to become carbon neutral in 35 years.
What will be the largest urban coastal park in Europe is taking form on top of the old Athens International Airport, which was decommissioned in 2001.
Over the past twenty years, the city and national government have devised an approach that will keep the majority of the 1,200-acre site public through a combination of the 600-acre park, other spaces, and roadways but also ensure long-term financial sustainability. Through a 99-year lease agreement, Lamda, a Greek developer, will cover the cost of designing, constructing, and operating the park in return for revenues from new residential and commercial developments. “Making this happen required a presidential decree that superseded local regulations and created a unique permitting authority,” explained Michael Grove, FASLA, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology, and principal landscape architect at Sasaki.
The grand new park will be approximately 70 percent of the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and built in three phases. A comprehensive plan and framework by Foster + Partners set the boundaries of the park, which extends to the Saronic Gulf.
Within the existing landscape are layers of history: remnants of prehistoric settlements, agricultural lands, an abandoned airport, and dilapidated Olympics venues, which have inspired novel and sustainable reinterpretations.
“It’s been a joy to be able to plug into this ambitious context — on a site with so much potential to realize what I hope sensitive landscape design can achieve in the 21st century,” said Chris Hardy, ASLA, senior associate at Sasaki and Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Leadership and Innovation Fellow.
According to Sasaki, Athenian society has been changing, and the new park aims to fill a cultural void. “Historically, Athenians returned to family farms in the countryside on weekends. Core to the Athenian identity was a relationship to the Greek landscape. But as the Greek diaspora grew abroad and more multi-generational families stay in Athens, many contemporary Athenians no longer have access to a rural ancestral home, displacing a traditional cultural relationship with nature and resulting in a growing disconnect between urban residents and the landscape.” In addition, the majority of the open spaces in Athens don’t help reforge that connection — they are “either passive landscapes adjacent to ancient ruins, or hyper-urban plazas and streetscapes.”
Much like Central Park, the goal of Ellinikon Metropolitan Park is to bring nature back to the city in a big way. This will occur by creating natively Greek ecological landscapes that will not only resonate on a cultural level but also be designed to store vast amounts of carbon.
The new park will include over 3.3 million Greek-sourced plants; among these are 31,000 new trees, representing 86 species. The team will also collect seeds from the site’s existing ruderal grasses and geophyte species, weaving novel ecosystems back in. More than 70 percent of the park will be designed as a demonstration of Greek landscape restoration.
And all of these landscapes will be nourished by 100 percent reclaimed water, which will be captured from sewage mined from a treatment plant that will be constructed by Lamda. In addition, “a 3.7-acre lake, repurposed from an Olympic kayak and canoe venue, will serve as an emergency stormwater reservoir, filling in the winter and slowly drawing down in the summer. The lake will be refilled with excess reclaimed water and treated through a large-scale flow-through recirculating wetland,” Hardy said.
Working with Atelier Ten and engineering firm LDK, the team also calculated expected future energy use in the giant park, which will include playgrounds, gardens, farms, and event spaces. That enabled the team to determine what size an on-site solar energy facility has to be to meet 100 percent of energy needs.
Hardy explained in detail how early planning and design decisions enabled them to design for carbon while achieving their other goals:
The single most important step to reduce the project’s carbon impact was to “swap out imported soil for amended soil.” Alone, this step is estimated to save approximately 43,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases of the project.
“The second biggest factor is we reduced the need for new concrete,” saving another estimated 41,000 metric tons of carbon across all phases.
Instead of specifying new concrete-based paving, Sasaki designed in stone or salvage concrete slab over aggregate base, so there is no concrete sub-base. In other places, there are just stabilized aggregate surfaces.
The third biggest carbon reduction comes from the reuse of 100 percent of nearly 310,000 cubic feet of concrete from airport runways and tarmac in the new park. The team will bring in concrete mining equipment, which will be operated on-site.
The highest quality concrete will be saved for fountains, retaining walls, custom furnishings, and various hardscapes. “Much of the concrete has marble and quartzite aggregate,” Hardy said, which means it will look appealing once polished and re-used.
Medium quality concrete will either be used as road base or riprap. And the lowest grade salvage will be crushed up to fill in new landscape forms. “Our use of salvage hardscape is saving nearly 12,000 metric tons across all phases.”
The goal was to “upcycle in a conspicuous way,” which will convey a public message of sustainability, Grove added. Ellinikon shows that landscape architects redesigning abandoned infrastructure can find opportunities to reinvent legacy concrete. But he acknowledged there is a cost to mining and crushing concrete on site, which can only be reduced through economies of scale. In projects where this isn’t feasible, “landscape architects can help grow a marketplace for recycled concrete products that can be specified.”
While these strategies outline how Sasaki has reduced or avoided new emissions, the other side of the equation are the approaches for drawing down more carbon from the air.
One core approach is to simply increase the percentage of the project that is covered in plants and soils and only strategically use hardscape in highly trafficked central areas.
Among natural areas, “the highest carbon sequestering land are the wetlands. Those include rain gardens, daylighted culverts, green infrastructure corridor, and a demonstration salt marsh. However, these areas are less than two hectares and will only reasonably sequester approximately 500 metric tons. The highest total individual sequestering landscape is our 11-hectare Dry Mediterranean Mixed Forest, with an estimated 3,300 metric tons sequestered in the study period,” Hardy explained.
“We can expect a total emission global warming potential (GWP) of 40,800 metric tons across all phases, which would reasonably take about 35 years for our softscape to offset. In 80 years, when the project’s landscapes will mostly reach their total ‘carbon carrying capacity,’ we will likely net sequester an additional 37,000 tons.” This means the project will become carbon positive, storing more carbon than it emitted, and then continue to function as a carbon sink far into the future.
Ellinikon Metropolitan Park shows the importance of calculating estimated carbon emissions from the get-go and letting the carbon priorities — the essential need to reduce emissions and increase sequestration — guide the design.
For Hardy, the support of the client has been critical. “Their exceptional commitment to be on cutting edge of sustainability from the beginning of the process and ‘leap frog’ other developments in Greece” enabled Sasaki to establish a climate-responsible framework for the project.
“The important part of the story is that through this process we were able to advocate for big moves towards a climate positive direction. Now we are better prepared to advocate for low-carbon strategies as we move into construction.”
With ETM Associates and LDK Waste Management, Sasaki’s team developed a low-carbon operations and maintenance manual that includes “recommendations for an all electric fleet of maintenance vehicles and landscape maintenance machinery, a large scale compost tea and composting program, and integrated pest management standards.”
Foster + Partners’ master plan also established important guiding principles. The park will integrate with the surrounding new developments, which will include a “waste management facility, enabling a source for our compost and compost tea.” In addition, a large-scale wastewater treatment plant will generate safe, treated water for irrigation.
Light-rail networks along the coast and through the park, along with a new bicycle network, will help get residents and visitors out of their cars, reducing transportation-related emissions.
Think of the High Line, perhaps the park of greatest celebrity in this genre, which transformed an unused rail line into a highly visited destination in Manhattan. With this success in mind, Newhouse and Pisha turn their attention to inventorying abandoned sites around the world—from closed highways to decommissioned airports, former industrial sites to defunct quarries—that now constitute the flourishing parks.
Making parks in underused, depleted, or contaminated land is not new. To name but two 19th-century examples: Paris’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont was once a quarry, and Boston’s Emerald Necklace a sewage-filled swamp. However, Newhouse maintains that the emergence of the environmental movement, the rise of a newly post-industrial society, and the depletion of public space accelerated this trend. And unlike parks of earlier centuries that sought to create sanctuary distinctly delineated from their city, all of the volume’s selected parks merge with their urban environments.
Parks of the 21st Century is organized by site history, with chapters titles such as “Highway Caps,” “Waterside Industry: Parks,” “Inland Industry,” and “Strongholds.” The book’s structure juxtaposes sites of the same type, presenting different variations of site understanding and approach that may vary by culture or local circumstances. Park descriptions include contexts, histories, design processes, and site elements, described by Newhouse in the first person based upon her visits with Pisha.
In the chapter describing parks on former airport land, two German parks exemplify divergent approaches. In Berlin, Tempelhofer Feld exists largely as it was when the airport closed, in 2008. The public opposed any changes, including a proposal from GROSS.MAX. Today, all site amenities, from toilets to community gardens to signage, are temporary. It is, according to Westhouse, a “huge void.”
In contrast to Tempelhofer, Alter Flugplatz, the empty site of relocated airport in Bonames, Germany, offers an argument for intervention—a strikingly minimal one. Instead of trying to replicate nature, GTL Landschaftsarchitektur sought to create a space that would allow it to self-propagate. Their design entailed breaking up the site’s asphalt and concrete, and this “human manipulation of the surface provided the necessary armature for the ‘wild’ to emerge.” The park exists as a continually changing landscape, and one with inherently little maintenance.
Waterfront parks comprise a significant number of parks in the book–according to the authors, the most parks have been constructed atop former industrial sites along waterfronts than anywhere else. The authors note that the similarities and differences between parks in China and those in the West—in design approach, remediation efforts, construction timelines, implementation—are particularly apparent.
Ambitious park system projects underway in Shanghai and New York City both reimagine former industrial sites as green public amenities. In New York City, Hunter’s Point South, designed by SWA/Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates implement a soft edge made possible by marshes, bridges, and raised walkways that make space for the inevitable flux of water. But most of the Shanghai parks remain, at the government’s direction, lined by the city’s flood wall. In their design of the Shanghai Shipyard Riverside Park, Design Land Collaborative overcame government-established design limitations including the flood wall, as well as work with too-shallow soil depth that were a result of the remediation efforts in which they had no role. Yet despite the constraints, the authors were impressed with the results—the allure of its human scale, the lush planting.
While the glamour of waterfront sites attracts much attention, Newhouse and Pisha share parks on inland industrial sites that are just as captivating. Parque Bicentenario, designed by Grupo di Diseño Urbano, is one of them, representing the only Mexican park in the volume. Built atop a former oil refinery, the park and botanical garden serve simultaneously as a public green space and educational site, its eight scaled-down biomes displaying the diversity across Mexico.
Not all of the book’s spurned sites result from modern technologies, such as those parks in “Quarries” and the “Strongholds” chapters. Both types of parks are globally widespread, but take on different forms. The vast 570-acre Huadu Lake Park by Palm Design in Guangzhou, China, employs local Cantonese garden aesthetics, offering a simplicity that “delighted” the authors.
On the small scale, 1.3-acre Thomas C. Wales Park in Seattle, Washington by Site Workshop impressed them its outsized effect: the magic bestowed by the vegetation, the “fairy-tale quality” granted by Adam Kuby’s Quarry Rings sculpture.
Each of the sites in Parks of the 21st Century are included only because of the narratives we understand about them. Topotek 1’s founder Martin-Rein-Cano articulates further: he is “convinced that the perception of landscape is highly dependent on the stories that are told about it.” In his firm’s work at Germany’s Lorsch Abbey, a monastic community founded in 764 whose buildings were largely destroyed in war in the 17th century, the task was to respond to those stories by creating a park connected to the abbey site. Newhouse resonated with the design, experiencing it “as the abstraction of a lost history,” and as a “design [that] ingeniously renders the invisible visible.”
Newhouse admits to one of the book’s shortcomings—that while global in reach, it is not comprehensively so. The parks included are all in North America, Europe, and China.
Yet the fact that the book includes only parks Newhouse and Pisha personally visited also imbues the book with a personal touch. The authors’ many and far-flung travels to the sites and their thorough descriptions are altogether quite a feat. Newhouse notes the weather on a given day, conversations with park users, observations about who is coming to a park at a certain time, and insightful commentary from the park designers who sometimes toured her and Pisha through the site.
One of the other limitations of the volume is, of course, that we are only 22 years into the 21st century. We don’t know how new parks of the next three-quarters of the century will evolve, though some of the designers in the “Future” chapter offer prescient thoughts. In this chapter, the authors examine four parks currently in progress, two of which are immense projects that foremost involve rehabilitation: Freshkills Park on Staten Island, New York, and the Los Angeles River project in California.
Of Freshkills, landscape architect James Corner, FASLA, declared it was not a design project. “It is not about a conclusion, but about adaptive management,” he said. According to him, it needs not a definitive plan, but a strategy—not unlike that of a farmer working the land. OLIN’s Jessica Henson, ASLA, echoes the sentiment, describing her work on the Los Angeles River project as a “‘long-term adaptation framework that looks eighty years into the future.’”
These are hopeful expressions of landscape architecture’s direction, ones that suggest an acceptance of flux in the work the discipline produces. Given the state of the world, the penchant to reinvent and reclaim landscapes seems likely to continue in the coming decades. As designers continue to work in these landscapes, Parks of the 21st Century offers a valuable guide for them: a detailed compendium of successes (and sometimes misses), and a hint at how the uncertain future needs to be met.
Twenty-eight Professional Award winners represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession
By Lisa Hardaway
ASLA has announced its 2022 Professional Awards. Twenty-eight Professional Award winners represent the highest level of achievement in the landscape architecture profession. All winners and their locations are listed below.
Jury panels representing a broad cross-section of the profession, from the public and private sectors, and academia, select winners each year. The 28 winners were chosen out of 506 entries.
The Professional Awards jury also selects a Landmark Award each year; this year’s Landmark Award celebrates “Crissy Field: An Enduring Transformation” by Hargreaves Jones for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Crissy Field, in San Francisco’s famed Presidio, features restored coastal habitat, recreational amenities and historical interpretation.
“ASLA Professional Awards for decades have recognized the most significant achievements by landscape architects nationwide, and we congratulate this year’s winners for their extraordinary contributions to their communities and the profession,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin, FASLA. “Many of this year’s winning projects were focused on reconnecting communities to landscapes, illustrating the important role landscape architects play in creating places for communities to live, work, and play.”
“These award winners underscore how landscape architects are problem- solving some of the biggest challenges facing communities around the globe,” said ASLA CEO Torey Carter-Conneen. “From equitable community gathering spaces to addressing climate change, these winners represent the cutting edge of our industry.”
A Radical Vision for Reinventing the Suburbs – 07/25/2022, Fast Company
“Outside Toronto, in a field surrounded by farmland, the seeds of a seemingly implausible high-density, transit-oriented community are taking root.”
Ford House Completes Restoration of Historic Lagoon and Pool – 07/24/2022, Detroit Free Press
“’Before the restoration, the landscape behind the pool had become overgrown. It lost its hierarchy, the diversity of material, and the layering that were meant to replicate a northern Michigan landscape,’ said Stephen White, principal and director of landscape architecture and urban design for Albert Kahn Associates.”
After several years of intensive study and community planning, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) along with federal and local partners released its new vision for Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., “the nation’s preeminent ceremonial boulevard,” and three concept plans in March. The goal is to transform an overwhelming and underused avenue into a space that “prioritizes people over cars with inviting and inclusive public spaces.” The NCPC argues that with a new design, the 1.2-mile-long avenue could become a “signature outdoor event venue that could attract and support major national and international events.”
According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, the avenue was part of L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the District of Columbia and symbolically connects the White House, the executive branch of government, with the U.S. Capitol, the legislative branch. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson designated the avenue the official Presidential inaugural route. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy, who complained about the pawn shops, X-rated movie houses, and liquor stores lining the avenue, created the President’s Commission on Pennsylvania Avenue, which included landscape architect Dan Kiley, to design a broad ceremonial avenue that would improve the pedestrian experience. In the 1980s, the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation further developed the parks and plazas along the avenue with landscape architecture firm Sasaki, establishing the unifying brown pavers that now define the space.
Today, eight lanes of roadways dominate the avenue, which make crossing the 160-to-400-foot-wide expanse feel like a chore. A central two-way cycle track fit in between vehicle lanes creates an angsty biking experience that requires vigilance about both pedestrians using crosswalks and vehicles on either sides. A 2018 District of Columbia transportation study found that 20 feet of the existing roadway could be allocated for other non-vehicle uses.
Reducing roadways for vehicles creates a slew of opportunities to re-imagine the avenue. NCPC has offered three concepts to “right-size and realign the roadway to increase the amount of usable and flexible public space” and “devote more space for people, bicyclists, and transit and less space for cars.” All three concepts would accommodate the Presidential inaugural parade from the U.S. Capitol to the White House.
Elizabeth Miller, FASLA, director of physical planning at NCPC and project director of the initiative, said “the three concepts are really distinct themes that enable us to achieve the goals of transforming Pennsylvania Avenue into both a street for people and America’s stage, a venue for national and international events. These concepts are at at 10,000-foot level and explore how to achieve balance between a space that can be enjoyable on a day-to-day basis but also support events.”
The “Urban Capital” concept is a “complete street with spacious sidewalks, central travel and dedicated transit lanes, and a two-way cycle track on the south side of the street.” Of the three options, this is closest to what currently exists, but would enhance the public realm with an improved streetscape and offer a better cycling experience.
Much bolder, the “Linear Green” concept proposes a “curbless car-free urban linear park with a dedicated central transit way flanked by dedicated cycle tracks.” Given research shows that people are drawn to green space, this proposal could perhaps be the most successful in bringing more visitors to the avenue and keeping them there longer. This offers a Dutch-style woonerf avenue, a much safer and welcoming experience for both pedestrians and cyclists.
The third “Civic Stage” concept proposes a “central pedestrian promenade flanked by a dedicated cycle track and shared travel lanes for cars and transit.” Here, a 52-feet-wide central strip in the middle of the avenue would offer pedestrians the broadest views up and down the avenue, but would require them to also navigate two sets of transit, vehicle, and bike lanes on either side. While the central promenade could be used for events or farmers markets, blazing hot DC summers could reduce use of a shade-less walking median.
NCPC also offers concepts for three “urban rooms” that would better connect the avenue to surrounding parks, memorials, museums, and businesses, while providing space for more temporary events.
Prior to the pandemic, more than 160 events were held each year on the avenue, but NCPC argues there could be even more with higher-quality public spaces better supported by retail and amenities, like public restrooms. They argue these urban rooms can help boost the downtown economy of Washington, D.C.
Through the proposals, NCPC offers ways to blur the boundaries between avenue, plaza, and park, creating a more seamless pedestrian experience. The concepts offer multiple reconfigurations of new public space in the many triangles where the avenue meets city streets. All add usable public green space and improve walkability and circulation.
One point of contention has already arisen since the concepts were first released: Since the 1980s, a diverse mix of skateboarders have claimed the otherwise empty, shade-less Freedom Plaza across from Pershing Park. Though their use of the plaza is technically illegal, some argue they enliven an underused space. Many skateboarders travel from out of state to experience Pennsylvania Avenue, bringing a vitality to an otherwise unloved plaza. According to The Washington Post, “generations of skateboarders have traveled to the plaza to connect with other skaters, pull off tricks, and record videos to mark their spot in skateboard lore.”
To preserve Freedom Plaza as a skating mecca, the skateboarders have created an online petition that has received some 11,000 signatures to date. Ensuring space for them in the future on one of America’s most important avenues would send a true message of inclusion.
Miller explained that public comments will shape future concepts and designs, which will then be returned to the public for additional review. More developed ideas may arise from a mix of multiple concepts. While realizing the entire vision could take a decade, NCPC hopes to initiate near-term pilots and programs to test out ideas.
“It’s not good enough to just be active designers, we also need to be influencing policy upstream,” said Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, CEO of the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF), during the kick-off of Grounding the Green New Deal, a day-long summit held at the National Building Museum (NBM) in Washington, D.C. Landscape architects can “create a feedback loop in which we test designs and overcome barriers,” advancing climate, water, and infrastructure policy through innovative projects.
In 2020, LAF, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, ASLA, and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) launched a collective, open source Green New Deal Superstudio focusing on how to plan and design the key goals of the Congressional legislative proposal H.R. 109, which are jobs, justice, and decarbonization. Some 180 universities, 3,000 students, and hundreds of practitioners submitted 670 projects. Of these, 55 projects have been highlighted by Superstudio curators, and many were featured in an exhibition at the NBM during the summit.
In a lecture to introduce the first panel, Billy Fleming, ASLA, the Wilks Family Director at the McHarg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, gave an introduction to the broad Green New Deal agenda, which was introduced in Congress in 2019. The agenda was seen as a criticism of the economic recovery package passed under the Obama administration, which was viewed as “too targeted, too Wall Street, and only one-time funding,” Fleming said. The economic havoc wrecked by the market collapse of 2008 was viewed by many liberals as a “crisis wasted.” The Green New Deal outlined an ambitious vision for addressing climate change while also tackling deep-rooted inequities in American society.
Like the original New Deal from the 1930s, which was a response to the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, the Green New Deal would yield thousands of public projects that would reshape communities. But in contrast to the original New Deal, which was not equitable in its distribution of public funds and reinforced the racist Jim Crow-era patterns of disinvestment in Black communities, the Green New Deal would be “more collaborative” and focused on lifting up long marginalized communities.
At the start of a wide-ranging panel discussion, Fleming argued that “carbon is mostly a technical problem.” Landscape architects, planners, and architects can’t focus solely on decarbonization, with “life the same afterwards.” Instead, he and other supporters of the Green New Deal argue that decarbonization should serve a broader economic and social transformation. Solving climate change can be connected to improving the quality of housing, creating new local jobs, and forging a more equitable society.
Nikil Saval, a Pennsylvania State Senator who represents Center City, Philadelphia, said the intersections of all these issues can be found when you “turn on your lights or stove.” Because of “historical redlining and disinvestment in Black and brown communities, many homes in these communities lack insulation and are in disrepair. As a result, the energy needed for lighting, heating, cooling is much more expensive.” Saval said this inequality in the end-use of energy mirrors an unjust “political economy of gas infrastructure” that also disproportionately impacts communities of color.
He argued that communities need to instead “attack the role of racism and inequality” in the current energy infrastructure while investing in energy efficiency in low-income communities and affordable renewable energy. Otherwise, a new clean energy system may simply reinforce many of the injustices of the current fossil fuel-based approach.
Colette Pichon Battle with the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The disaster changed the trajectory of her legal career, and since then she has focused on environmental and climate justice in Louisiana, Mississippi, and other southern states.
Her organization and others in 13 southern states launched the Red, Black, and Green New Deal, an initiative that aims to tackle the drivers of climate change — economic and social inequality — and their impacts on communities, rather than focusing on “invisible atmospheric changes.”
The current economic system that leads to environmental and climate damages and injustices must be the focus of climate action efforts, Pichon Battle argued. For example, post-Hurricane Katrina, many cities in Louisiana were submerged under water for years. An incredible amount of trash accumulated and was eventually moved into landfills. Those landfills now form the foundation of new housing subdivisions marketed to low-income Black residents. “Those landfills are going to go under water again at some point and become toxic. Those Black folks marketed to weren’t just happened upon but targeted.”
“We need to be careful about talking about climate justice at a high level; it’s easy to decouple the issues from humanity,” argued Bryan Lee, another speaker on the panel, an architect and founder of Colloqate Design. “If you are talking about it at a high level, it means you don’t know your community. You need to know the people to know the climate impacts.”
Linda Shi, a professor of urban planning at Cornell University, asked everyone in the audience the question: “Who is part of the resilient future? Who makes space for others’ resilience dreams?” She argued that in any discussion about climate change, “we must center equity or it’s not about equity.”
She added that one challenge is that many engineering professions involved in building new climate infrastructure “have never been trained to deal with social issues.” Furthermore, governments and the private sector are more focused on reducing risk and legal liabilities with new infrastructure. “These legal concerns are different from justice, equity, and creating a sense of place.” This is where planners and landscape architects, who are skilled in equitable community planning and design, can help.
The Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act created enormous opportunities for communities to improve their park, water, and transportation infrastructure. $50 billion has been allocated for improving water infrastructure alone, with 20 percent of that for water efficiency and reuse.
For Katherine Baer with River Network, the bill is a “transformative moment” and creates opportunities to design green infrastructure to achieve greater water equity. “We believe in connecting communities to their rivers, centering rivers in their life. In the built environment, there are too many buried rivers, creeks, and culverts. And these buried rivers impact some communities more than others.”
Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, professor of landscape architecture and planning at MIT, highlighted the ways landscape architects can empower underserved communities, address injustices, and increase climate resilience.
When her father took her to the March on Washington in 1963, “her life was transformed.” The march helped hone her life-long passion for “civil rights, environmental action, and beauty.” However, studying ecological design with Ian McHarg at the University of Pennsylvania, she found design academia at the time was “deaf to civil rights.”
Beginning 40 years ago, Spirn began partnering with communities through the West Philadelphia Landscape Project. White flight had led to disinvestment, but Spirn sought to keep people in cities by improving their environmental health and beauty. Realizing that “no one was going to pay me for this work,” she left private practice and took a job in academia. Using her salary she helped “communities who didn’t know they needed a landscape architect.” Through her “action research” approach, Spirn helped communities improve their landscape literacy. With the founding of her project, her goal was to “improve the natural environment and racial justice.”
She found that in low-income Philadelphia communities there is a lot of vacant land, which is almost always in the floodplain and often on buried streams. While she couldn’t convince the city government in the 1970s and 80s, she called for transforming those vacant lots into green infrastructure to manage water. She started partnering with middle school students to discover the communities’ environmental history. “I learned that landscape literacy could change the future. We need to empower youth. These kids are brilliant.”
Spirn and the West Philadelphia communities were eventually vindicated when the city reached more than a decade ago out to discuss its then-nascent Green City, Clean Waters plan. But she is now concerned all the green infrastructure improvements that have occurred in West Philadelphia as a part of her advocacy efforts are “catalyzing speculation and gentrification.”
She urged the audience to “think five to ten years ahead to the possible displacement impacts of your vision.” Any improvements in community green infrastructure should be coupled with “education, jobs training, affordable housing, and community land trusts.”
5 Takeaways from the Latest United Nations Climate Change Report— 02/28/22, The Washington Post
“The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a warning letter to a world on the brink. A sweeping survey of the most advanced climate science on the planet, it recounts the effects rising temperatures are already having and projects the catastrophes that loom if humans fail to make swift and significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.”
A Bike Plan Revived: Adding a Path to the Olmsted-designed 33rd Street Greenspace — 02/28/22, Baltimore Fishbowl
“The city’s broader goals are to create a safe, well-used trail that makes the best use of the historic, picturesque median designed by the Olmsted Brothers (named a local landmark, along with the Gwynns Falls Parkway median, in 2015) and improves traffic and pedestrian safety at intersections.”
Best Apps for Urban Planning in 2022 – 02/28/22, Planetizen
“Mobile apps continue to redefine the practices of planning—urban planning, regional planning, transportation planning, community planning, and rural planning included.”
How ‘Solar Canals’ Could Help California Survive a Megadrought — 02/25/22, Fast Company Design
“In that 2021 study, we showed that covering all 4,000 miles of California’s canals with solar panels would save more than 65 billion gallons of water annually by reducing evaporation. That’s enough to irrigate 50,000 acres of farmland or meet the residential water needs of more than 2 million people.
How a Philadelphia Road Redesign Went off the Rails — 02/23/22, Bloomberg CityLab
“It isn’t uncommon for complete streets projects to become lightning rods for arguments about gentrification, says Leah Shahum, the founder and executive director of the Vision Zero Network, which pushes communities to adopt a goal of eliminating traffic deaths.”
Biden: Infrastructure Plan Gives $1B for Great Lakes Cleanup — 02/17/22, U.S. News and World Report, Associated Press
“The $1 billion for the Great Lakes from the bipartisan measure enacted in November, combined with annual funding through an ongoing recovery program, will enable agencies by 2030 to finish work on 22 sites designated a quarter-century ago as among the region’s most degraded, officials said Thursday.”