ASLA 2021 Professional & Student Awards Call for Entries

ASLA 2020 Professional General Design Honor Award. Naval Cemetery Landscape. Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects / Max Touhey

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is now accepting submissions for its 2021 Professional and Student Awards Program.

The ASLA Awards Program is the oldest and most prestigious in the landscape architecture profession. They honor the most innovative landscape architecture projects and the brightest ideas from up-and-coming landscape architecture students.

“The ASLA Professional & Student Awards recognize the most innovative and impactful work in the profession,” said Tom Mroz, 2021 president of ASLA. “Our professional winners are leaders in the industry. Our student winners represent the best and brightest hope for the future. Each year, we get entries from all around the world. I can’t wait to see the creative projects this year’s Call for Entries brings.”

Award recipients receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine and are honored at a special Awards Presentation ceremony in the fall.

Submissions for ASLA Professional Awards are due no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, March 12, 2021.

Submissions for ASLA Student Awards are due no later than 11:59 PST on Monday, May 24, 2021.

ASLA bestows Professional Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research categories. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence. One Landmark Award is also presented each year.

The 2021 Professional Awards Jury includes:

  • Chair: Thaïsa Way, FASLA – Dumbarton Oaks
  • Virginia Burt, FASLA – Virginia Burt Designs, Inc.
  • Sahar Coston-Hardy, Affiliate ASLA – Sahar Coston-Hardy Photography
  • Perry Howard, FASLA – Greensboro, NC USA
  • Kene Okigbo, ASLA – RDG Planning & Design
  • Faith Okuma, ASLA – Surroundings Studio, LLC
  • Karen Phillips, FASLA – NYS Homes & Community Renewal
  • David Rubin, FASLA – David Rubin Land Collective
  • Emma Skalka, Hon. ASLA – Victor Stanley
ASLA 2020 Student Communications Award of Excellence. Jia: Bringing Ladnscape Architecture to Webtoons / July Aung

ASLA bestows Student Awards in General Design, Residential Design, Urban Design, Analysis & Planning, Communications, Research, Student Community Service, and Student Collaboration. In each of these categories, juries select a number of Honor Awards and may select one Award of Excellence.

The 2021 Student Awards Jury includes:

  • Chair: Diane Jones Allen, FASLA – Design Jones LLC
  • Magdalena Aravena, ASLA – Lamar Johnson Collaborative
  • Jane Berger – Freelance Journalist
  • Rebecca Bradley, ASLA – Cadence
  • L. Irene Compadre, ASLA – Arbolope Studio
  • Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, ASLA – University of Arkansas
  • Jessica Henson, ASLA – OLIN
  • Radhika Mohan – Enterprise Community Partners
  • Paola Moya, Assoc. AIA – Moya Design Partners

ASLA 2021 Honors Call for Nominations

2014 ASLA LaGasse Medal – Landscape Architecture recipient. David Ramiro Villalvazo, ASLA / EPNAC

Nominations for the 2021 ASLA Honors are open. These prestigious awards recognize individuals and organizations for their lifetime achievements and notable contributions to the profession of landscape architecture.

Honors nomination categories include:

The ASLA Medal
The ASLA Design Medal
The Community Service Awards
The Jot D. Carpenter Teaching Medal
The LaGasse Medals
The Landscape Architecture Firm Award
The Landscape Architecture Medal of Excellence
The Olmsted Medal
The ASLA Emerging Professional Medal

Nominations are also open for ASLA Honorary Membership. Honorary membership recognizes persons other than landscape architects whose achievements of national or international significance or influence have provided notable service to the profession of landscape architecture.

The deadline for all nominations is February 5, 2021.

Any ASLA professional member or ASLA chapter may submit nominations for ASLA honors. For more details on the nomination criteria by category, view the links above.

Questions about the nomination process for ASLA honors and honorary membership may be directed to honorsawards@asla.org or by calling 202-216-2331.

This post is by Makeeya Hazelton, Manager, Honors & Awards.

Biden-Harris Administration Rejoins Paris Climate Accord

Inauguration of President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris / Kevin Dietsch, CNP/Polaris, Europa Press via AP News

Only a few hours after being sworn in, President Joseph R. Biden signed an executive order that recommits the United States to the Paris Climate Accord. The U.S., the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, now rejoins more than 195 nations in seeking to limit global warming to 1.5 ° Celsius (2.7 ° Fahrenheit) by ratcheting up emissions reductions every five years. The goal is to achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050.

In 2015, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the U.S. committed to reducing American emissions by 26-28 percent by 2030 by raising vehicle emissions standards and phasing out coal-powered electrical generation and then accelerating emission reductions by 2050. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his administration would be taking the U.S. out of the agreement. The actual abandonment of the agreement didn’t occur until November 2020.

President Trump’s policy caused a groundswell among state and local governments to commit to the U.S.’s 2015 pledge. The Center for American Progress found that 26 red and blue states and territories—representing a majority of the U.S. population—remained committed to the Obama administration’s goals. Furthermore, the Clean Energy States Alliance states that 17 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia enacted plans for achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 or earlier. Thousands of cities, businesses, religious organizations, universities, and non-profit organizations, including ASLA, joined the “We Are Still In” coalition.

Due to the pandemic, greenhouse gas emissions dropped 9.2 percent in 2020, but with expansive forest fires out West, the net reduction was calculated to be just 6.4 percent. Still, this reduction actually puts the U.S. within reach of achieving the Obama administration’s goals for 2030.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris campaigned on an ambitious platform of climate action and environmental justice. To achieve their plan, they call for $1.7 trillion in federal government investment, along with leveraging another $5 trillion in state and local government and private sector funds over the next decade.

Specifically, their plan calls for 100 percent renewable power in the electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions no later than 2050. The administration plans on asking Congress to enact legislation that establishes an enforcement mechanism for milestone targets, makes “historic investments” in clean energy and climate research and innovation, and “incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations,” particularly in underserved and historically marginalized communities.

Other major parts of their platform include taking on a global leadership role to speed up climate action, ensuring all investments in new infrastructure also help American communities adapt to climate change, targeting polluters who “disproportionately harm underserved communities,” and supporting the growth of green jobs.

According to The Guardian, the Biden-Harris administration is expected to organize an international climate summit in spring 2021 in the effort to spur on more ambitious commitments at the UNFCCC COP26 meeting in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.S.’s own emission reduction goals will also be reconsidered and then packaged as a nationally determined contribution, which is required for signatories to the Paris Climate Accord.

To realize these plans, President Biden has elevated climate change-related positions in his administration and assembled a team of well-seasoned climate policy experts.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry was appointed as Special Envoy for Climate Change and given a seat on the National Security Council and the cabinet. On the domestic side, Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been appointed as national “climate czar,” with responsibility for coordinating domestic climate policy. (McCarthy was the keynote speaker at ASLA’s 2019 Conference on Landscape Architecture). The Washington Post reports that Ali Zaidi, New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, will be McCarthy’s deputy.

The EPA and the Departments of the Interior, Energy, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development all play critical roles in achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s climate goals.

To head up the EPA, Biden nominated Michael S. Regan, Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, who started the department’s first environmental justice advisory board. For Secretary of the Interior, Biden nominated New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman selected for a cabinet role. Both Rep. Haaland and President Biden are strong advocates for conserving 30 percent of U.S. land and waters in an effort to protect American biodiversity and natural resources and better use landscapes as a carbon sink.

And for Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who pledges to integrate climate change and equity considerations into federal transportation infrastructure investments. The Department of Transportation is crucial to expanding access to low-carbon transportation infrastructure, such as green Complete Streets and public transit; creating more stringent fuel emission standards; and expanding access to electric vehicles. Learn more about all of Biden’s key nominees.

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

Frank Gehry Previews an Updated Vision for the L.A. River as New Master Plan Is Unveiled — 01/15/21, The Architect’s Newspaper
“The river cuts through 17 neighborhoods and the design team, comprised of Gehry Partners along with landscape architects OLIN and engineering firm Geosyntec, were tasked with both creating site-specific installations, crossings, trails, flood mitigation measures, and landscaped platforms, as well as kits-of-parts and common design elements to create a unifying vernacular.”

Smithsonian Scales Back $2 Billion Expansion Plan — 01/12/21, The New York Times
“The Smithsonian is currently completing the first project under the master plan, a renovation of the Hirshhorn Museum’s exterior and, soon, the sculpture garden.”

$60 Million High Line Expansion to Connect Park to Moynihan Train Hall — 01/11/21, The New York Times
“Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Sunday that the High Line will be extended to connect to the newly opened Moynihan Train Hall, a project that he said help spur development in the surrounding neighborhoods and boost an economy facing a deep crisis because of the pandemic.”

Paris Agrees to Turn Champs-Élysées into ‘Extraordinary Garden’ — 01/10/21, The Guardian
“The mayor of Paris has said a €250m (£225m) makeover of the Champs-Élysées will go ahead, though the ambitious transformation will not happen before the French capital hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics.”

‘Slow Streets’ Disrupted City Planning. What Comes Next? — 01/06/21, Bloomberg CityLab
“In many cities, the swift rollout of car-restricted streets at the start of the pandemic faced fierce community resistance. Now planners are changing their playbook.”

50 Countries Agree to Protect 30 Percent of Their Land and Waters

ASLA 2019 Landmark Award. Crosswinds Marsh Wetland Interpretive Preserve, Sumpter Township, Michigan. SmithGroup / Aaron Kiley

The global movement to protect at least 30 percent of the planet’s lands and 30 percent of its oceans by 2030 achieved a major breakthrough this week. At the One Planet Summit, the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, which is led by Costa Rica, France, and the United Kingdom, announced 50 countries on six continents have agreed to protect 30 percent of their land and oceans by 2030. This commitment is a major step towards setting a new global target among all nations at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15, which will be held in Kunming, China this year.

The global 30 x 30 campaign is one of the most high-profile efforts to reduce extinctions and save the Earth’s irreplaceable remaining terrestrial and marine ecosystems. According to The Guardian, the campaign’s goal is to make the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity the “Paris Climate Accord for Nature.” However, pessimists note that government leaders have not met previous conservation commitments, and much greater financing for land and ocean conservation efforts is also needed to ensure new commitments can be realized.

The High Ambition Coalition includes major economies like Canada and Japan. A number of biodiversity powerhouses in Africa joined, such as Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Uganda, and others. In Europe — beyond France and United Kingdom — Denmark, Slovenia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Finland, and the European Commission, along with other countries, got on board. In Latin America and the Caribbean — beyond Costa Rica — Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Grenada joined. The U.S., as represented by the Trump administration, Russia, China, and Brazil didn’t sign on.

There is a history of setting ambitious global conservation targets. More than a decade ago, 190 countries, as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which called for “at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas” to be conserved by 2020. When those targets were created in 2010, just 13 percent of the world’s terrestrial areas were under any protection, and there were hardly any protections for ocean ecosystems. Fast forward to today and just 15 percent of terrestrial ecosystems and 7 percent of oceans are now legally protected. The world missed these relatively low targets, in large part because of the lack of financing.

In 2019, a major report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) — the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services — found that 75 percent of terrestrial environment have been “severely altered” to date by human actions, along with 66 percent of marine environments. Furthermore, there has been a 47 percent reduction in “global indicators of ecosystem extent and condition against their estimated natural baselines.” In other words, the health of remaining ecosystems is also dramatically falling.

The report’s central finding was a shock: “around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.” Of existing species, “more than 40 percent of amphibian species, almost 33 percent of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.”

Globally, landscape architects and planners have a crucial role to play in reducing plant, animal, and insect extinctions; restoring ecosystem health; and expanding legally-protected natural areas. The United Nations calls for the adoption of “multi-functional landscape planning, cross-sector integrated management,” and the expansion of ecologically-sound agricultural practices. They state that cities and suburbs also present opportunities for the preservation of natural areas and biodiversity. These are all domains in which landscape architects can help plan and design smart solutions that also increase people’s connection to nature.

Landscape architects and planners can also partner with and empower indigenous communities, which currently manage nearly 25 percent of the world’s remaining natural areas.

In the U.S., President-Elect Joseph Biden has committed to protecting 30 percent of American land and waters by 2030. His nominee for U.S. Interior Secretary — New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland — has sponsored legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to support the 30 percent by 2030 commitment. With such powerful advocates, there is now a greater chance of achieving the goal.

In the past few years, ASLA has helped write and pass major conservation legislation, including the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act and the Great American Outdoors Act. ASLA’s dedicated advocacy and lobbying efforts resulted in the permanent authorization and full funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is the primary program for conserving new land.

As the Sierra Club outlines, more work needs to be done to achieve the 30 percent target in the U.S. The group notes that 1 million acres of nature is lost to development each year. Due in large part to the loss of habitat to development, the number of birds in the U.S. and Canada have declined by 3 billion, or nearly 30 percent, in the last half century. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, half of all freshwater and saltwater wetlands have also been lost. Protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and water would not only preserve remaining ecosystems and biodiversity but also help offset an estimated 21 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Explore the American Nature Campaign, a project of the Resources Legacy Fund, and the Campaign for Nature, a project of the National Geographic Society and the Wyss Foundation.

Call for Presentations: 2021 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture

Cumberland Park, Nashville, Tennessee / Hargreaves Jones

ASLA is accepting proposals for the 2021 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Nashville, Tennessee, November 19-22, 2021.

We are looking for education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and provide solutions to everyday challenges that are informed by research and practice. Help us shape the 2021 education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

NEW for 2021
The 2021 conference education program will be organized across dynamic conference tracks. Before submitting your proposal, prepare by reviewing the seven track descriptions, which cover the topics most relevant to the practice of landscape architecture and cross-sector collaborations:

  • Design and the Creative Process
  • Design Implementation
  • Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
  • Leadership, Career Development, and Business
  • Planning, Urban Design, and Infrastructure
  • Resilience and Stewardship
  • Technology

Submission Resources

Google Group
To coordinate proposals and network with potential speakers, we encourage you to use the Call for Presentations Google group.

Education Session Submission Guidelines
Our session submission guides provide info on what you need to include, expert tips on putting together a winning proposal, and help to determine which session type best fits your proposal:

60- or 75-Minute Education Session Guide
Deep Dive Session Guide
Field Session Guide

Submission Templates
Speakers are welcome to use the submission Word templates to collaborate on proposals before completing the online submission. The templates provide descriptions of the required submission information and can be edited and shared:

60- and 75- minute session template
Deep dive session template
Field session template

Conference Session Guide Examples
Review the session descriptions, learning outcomes, and session guides from past conferences.

Please visit the submission site to learn more about criteria, the review process, and key dates.

Submit your session proposal today.

This post is by Katie Riddle, ASLA, director of professional practice at ASLA.

Most Popular DIRT Posts of 2020

Harbor Spring, Michigan / Robert Gibbs

While we look ahead to what’s new in the built and natural environments, it’s also valuable to look back at what attracted readers’ attention the most last year. Here’s a review of the 10 most popular DIRT posts of 2020.

Readers wanted to know more about the causes of the pandemic and its impacts on human and environmental health and local economies. Contributions from ASLA members explored the health risks of destroying biodiversity and expanding into natural areas and offered creative planning and design solutions to reduce the chances of another virus-driven catastrophe. Amid the global Black Lives Matter protest movement, readers also sought to learn more from Black landscape architects on their experiences with racism — and the need to preserve and celebrate Black landscapes.

ASLA members: please send us your original op-eds or articles on topics that inspire you. And tell us about your new projects and research. Please email us at info@asla.org.

After Lockdown, New Opportunities for Downtown Shopping Districts

Robert Gibbs, FASLA: “Since the earliest human settlements, the retail experience has evolved to meet the needs of the public. This evolution has taken us from rural markets to towns, cities, suburban shopping malls, big box mega-stores, and, more recently, the Internet. But what will retail shopping look like once COVID-19 lockdowns are over and people return to the wild for their shopping experiences?”

Interview with Walter Hood: Black Landscapes Matter

Walter Hood, ASLA: “Sometimes places are palimpsests, meaning part of the brick and mortar, and some of them are based in memories, the passing of time. For people of color who are marginalized, stories get lost. Each project is fraught with chance. I am not trying to solve a problem, per se. I’m trying to put something out in the world that has been covered up, erased, which might allow people to see the world and themselves in a different way.”

Interactive Maps Track Western Wildfires

Amid the continuing devastation, an interactive map from ESRI, which creates geographic information system software, enables users to track active fires by name or location in near real time and sort by timeline and magnitude. The map indicates each fire’s estimated start date and its current level of containment. Another layer provides a smoke forecast for any given location.

The Pandemic Offers an Opportunity to Re-Wild Our Communities

Kinder Baumgardner, ASLA: “My view is that feral green agglomerations will pop up across cities and suburbs. Residents will benefit from their habitat patches, stormwater storage, carbon sequestration, and makeshift community gathering areas.”

Biodiversity and Pandemic Diseases (or How We Came to Know Our World in 2020)

Kristina Hill, Affil. ASLA: “In the 21st century, globalized economic growth has reached the end of its rope. Economies can’t continue to expand without creating new pandemic risks, as more people press up against the habitat of more wildlife or raise domestic animals in unhealthy conditions. We’re now part of one big, highly connected planetary ecosystem that’s going to bite us back hard if we step on it the wrong way.”

Amid the Pandemic, Take Time to Reconnect with Nature

If you are in a place impacted by COVID-19, spending 20 minutes experiencing nature in a park, street, or even your backyard can significantly reduce your stress levels. Just be sure to follow federal, state, and local guidelines and maintain social distancing of 6 feet. But even if you cannot or are unable to go outside, taking a break by opening a window and looking at a tree or plant can also help de-stress.

Suburban Sprawl Increases the Risk of Future Pandemics

Michael Grove, FASLA: “Degraded habitats of any kind can create conditions for viruses to cross over, whether in Accra or Austin. The disruption of habitat to support our suburban lifestyle is bringing us closer to species with which we have rarely had contact. By infringing on these ecosystems, we reduce the natural barriers between humans and host species, creating ideal conditions for diseases to spread. These microbes are not naturally human pathogens. They become human pathogens because we offer them that opportunity.”

Asia’s Largest Urban Rooftop Farm Is a Model of Integrated Design

At first, the images of Thammasat University Rooftop Farm seem like renderings, but they are in fact real. Designed by Landprocess, which is led by landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, International ASLA, the 1.7-acre rooftop farm in Bangkok, Thailand, is not only mesmerizing but also a model of sustainable multi-use infrastructure.

I Could Have Been Ahmaud Arbery

Andrew Sargeant, ASLA: “We must change the narrative about investing in Black landscape architects and other minority designers as ‘helping them.’ Investment in diverse people and communities is investing in the future of the profession. I don’t want ‘help.'”

How Will the Pandemic Impact the Built Environment?

Throughout the Congress for New Urbanism’s Virtual Gathering, landscape architects, planners, architects, and developers struggled to figure out how the pandemic is impacting communities and the built environment — and tried to foresee what changes are coming in the near future.

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

25 Cottage Street, Brookline, Massachusetts / Brookline Preservation Commission, via The Architect’s Newspaper

H. H. Richardson and John Charles Olmsted Homes Get Temporary Reprieve from the Wrecking Ball — 12/31/20, The Architect’s Newspaper
“Brookline’s Green Hill historic district reflected an ‘extraordinary confluence’ of design talent […] Frederick Law Olmsted, John Charles Olmsted, and H. H. Richardson ‘worked within yards of one another, shaping Nineteenth and early Twentieth-Century architecture and landscape design in ways that continue to reverberate today.'”

Landscape Architecture and Industrial Design Feature in UNSW Sydney’s Varied Student Show — 12/23/20, Dezeen
“Landscape design that explores urban nature and an ergonomic chair designed for musicians are among the varied student projects exhibited in part two of the UNSW Sydney’s school show.”

Op-Ed: How to Fix a National Register of Historic Places That Reflects Mostly White History — 12/22/20, The Los Angeles Times
“Less than 8% of sites on the National Register are associated with women, Latinos, African Americans or other minorities. The César E. Chávez National Monument, established just eight years ago, was the first unit in the National Park System commemorating any aspect of modern Latino history.”

Nominee Buttigieg Vows To Dismantle ‘Racist’ Freeways — 12/22/20, Streetsblog
“President-elect Biden’s path breaking pick for Transportation Secretary says he’ll reverse decades of discriminatory planning by expanding public transit and, most important, dismantling urban freeways that were built to destroy Black communities and led to decades of health and wealth inequity.”

City of Boston Is Working with Architectural Firm to Rethink Copley Square — 12/16/20, The Boston Globe
“’We have a much-loved square which hasn’t seen any updates since the late ’80s and wasn’t designed for the kind of traffic it now gets in the 21st century,’ said Kate Tooke, a landscape architect at Sasaki, a Watertown-based global design firm that has been hired by the Walsh administration to design upgrades for the square.”

Hug a Tree for 15 Minutes (and Complain to It)

After this challenging year, Marina Abramović, perhaps the world’s most famous performance artist, recommends everyone vent their frustrations to a favorite tree in a public park. She tells you to hug one tightly for no less than 15 minutes and pour out your woes to it. Your angst will be “absorbed in the bark,” and you will feel “rejuvenated.” This is tree-hugging on a whole other level.

Abramović believes there is a degree of energy flow between us and our arboreal friends. “Complaining to the tree is also a way of getting energy out of the tree—to you. And healing you.”

Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom
Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom
Complain to a Tree / video still from Design Boom

This participatory performance work — Complain to a Tree — is part of series of exercises called the “Abramović Method,” which was developed by the artist to “practice being present.” In Abramović’s most well-known art work, The Artist Is Present, she sat nearly immobile at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City for 736 hours, facing 1,545 visitors over the span of weeks. Being present became a form of “endurance art.”

In the video, Abramović states that “trees are like human beings. They have intelligence. They have feelings. They communicate with each other. And also, they are perfectly silent listeners. You can complain to them.” And she notes that many cultures worship and commune with trees.

For those inclined to try this out in public, Abramović offers guidance:

“One important thing is that you really choose a tree that you like. It can be small and even not that beautiful a tree. But you have some relation to this tree, emotionally. Don’t pick the tree because of the beauty of the tree. Pick the tree because of its smell, the bark, the leaves. Whatever triggers your affection. So look around, and take the tree you like.

Don’t immediately hug the tree. Just feel the energy of the tree. Even not touching it but just holding your hands a little bit above.

And then complain your heart into it. This is the whole idea. Have any of you ever complained to a tree before? No. So this is something that you will be doing for the first time. This is like a journey into the unknown. So get out of your security box and do something that is different.

I hope we can create some kind of trend, that actually people are going to run to the parks and start complaining to the trees. This is one way of healing at this moment of our history.

Complaining to the tree is also a way of getting energy out of the tree—to you. And healing you. So the tree is actually healing the complaint. You’re opening your heart. You’re just telling all your negativity and what bothers you in your life. And the tree is a silent listener. And everything is absorbed into the bark of the tree. And you feel rejuvenated. You feel happy after that.

This is the message for the public. Please—go to the park near you. Pick the tree you like. Hold the tree tight. Really tight. And just pour your heart into it. Complain to the tree for a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s the best healing that you can do.”

The performance was part of a 5-hour public program Abramović produced for the Sky Arts TV channel in the United Kingdom in early December.

From Ancient Rome to Contemporary Singapore: The Evolution of Conservatories

The Conservatory: Gardens Under Glass / Princeton Architectural Press

By Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA

According to Pliny, Roman Emperor Tiberius’s doctors instructed their charge to consume a fruit of the Cucurbits family each day. To grow these melon and cucumber fruits year-round on his home island of Capri, Tiberius directed construction of specularia: “[He] had raised beds made in frames upon wheels, by means of which the Cucumis were moved and exposed to the full heat of the sun; while, in winter, they were withdrawn, and placed under the protection of frames glazed with mirror-stone.”

Thus begins The Conservatory: Gardens Under Glass. Illustrating their text with stunning photography, the authors Alan Stein and Nancy Virts, co-founders of Maryland’s Tanglewood Conservatories, survey the evolution of the conservatory in Europe, North America, and, ultimately, the world. The conservatory, an outgrowth of global trade, imperialism, and innovation, embodies a historical leap in the conjoining of architecture and landscape architecture—the extension of the growing season by manipulating the outputs of the sun.

Winter-plaats in den Hoff van d’Academie Tot Leyden, engraving, Johannes Commelin, 1676 / The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

After specularia, the next great innovation in overwintering plants didn’t occur until the arrival of oranges to Europe in the late fifteenth century. Wood and stone structures called orangeries protected the citrus from cold temperatures. At first merely functional, these buildings grew increasingly extravagant, achieving maximal opulence in the seventeenth century at Louis XIV’s Versailles. There, the orangery, 492 feet long and 42 feet high with double windows and thick walls, warmed over 1,000 orange trees.

And yet, an “ordinary stone-and-glass orangery” was not suitable for Hugh Percy, the third duke of Northumberland, who needed a structure for his collection of exotic plants—“the floral dividend of Great Britain’s expanding global empire.”

Imperial Federation, map of the world showing the extent of the British Empire, England, map, Colomb, John Charles Ready, 1886 / Boston Public Library, Normal B. Leventhal Map Center, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Lucky for him, the industrial advances of the nineteenth century were taking hold: new fabrication methods for glass and metal made them ubiquitous and affordable, and standardization increased speed and affordability of construction. With all that at hand, in 1827 Charles Fowler designed the Great Conservatory for Percy’s Syon Park in England, a structure of iron webbing connected by countless panes of glass: the first conservatory.

Syon Park Conservatory / Photo by Alan Stein, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

With material innovation came a shift in intention. Instead of gardens of pleasure for the wealthy, conservatories also became research centers to study the medicinal and industrial value of the plants they housed. The Palm House (1848) at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England particularly embodied this transition. Not only did the conservatory present the first structural use of wrought iron at such a large scale, but it was also free for the public to enter. Kew’s research center served as model for conservatories around the world.

If the Palm House marked a turning point in the use of wrought iron, the Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton did the same for glass. Constructed as the Exposition Hall for the Great Exhibition of 1851, the “revolutionary modular structure” occupied nineteen acres and reached a height of 168 feet—and was built, in fact, around several elm trees on site. The immense amount of glass was enabled by the production of large panes, and machine fabrication allowed uniformity, affordability, and rapid installation. After the international Great Exhibition hosted over 14,000 exhibitors and 6 million visitors, a flurry of conservatory construction swept the world. The Crystal Palace’s light, open space, and facility of construction subsequently informed architecture of all kinds, and the relationship between buildings and the outdoors.

The Crystal Palace Exhibition, London, painting / Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries; Hornbake Digitization Center, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, conservatories at the scale of the Crystal Palace emerged across Europe, growing increasingly elaborate in form and detail. Serving as “a way for the wealthy to preen and for universities to pursue research,” they seemingly offered an acceptable display of affluence. British conservatory design influence emerged from the Chateau Lednice Conservatory in the Czech Republic (1845), the Palm House conservatory (1880) at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, as well as further south in Madrid and Milan.

The Schönbrunn Palace Park conservatory, Vienna, Austria / Photo by Alan Stein, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

North Americans, too, replicated the British conservatory model. They didn’t have an empire, but they had their own brand of colonialism, and, “like the Europeans, Americans needed places to conserve and study what had been found.” New York built its own Crystal Palace (1853); San Francisco erected its Conservatory of Flowers (1879); and Pittsburgh, the Phipps Conservatory (1893). Conservatories became integrated with the City Beautiful movement, whose romanticized parks often included glasshouses, like those in Baltimore and Chicago.

Throughout this progression, as note Marc Hachadourian and Todd Forrest in the volume’s introduction, “the history of conservatory design is the history of humankind’s obsession with cultivating rare, exotic, useful, and beautiful plants.” As such, it is often a history of the elite, as those with the means to obsess over such plants have usually been those of power and wealth—a fact made clear in The Conservatory. But also as such, the history of conservatory design is of those who labored in the conservatories, the factory workers of the industrial revolution, and the territories from which the conservatory plants were snatched, newly “discovered.”

Mount Vernon Orangery, United States / © National Portrait Gallery, London, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

The authors do not eschew the problematic imperial stimulus behind conservatories. And they importantly note that, in the days of orangeries, the primary difference between European and American versions was their work force: American orangeries were built and maintained by enslaved people. Yet this volume begs more such admissions and revelations. As Kofi Boone, FASLA, writes: “what if landscape architecture were described with some acknowledgement of the dynamics of race, class, gender, and power?” Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park, in which sat the Peters Rawlings Conservatory (1888), mandated recreational segregated facilities for Black and white individuals until the 1950s. What bearing did this racial division have on visitors to the conservatory?

The history of conservatories also prompts inquiry into their present-day purposes as we struggle to chart new habits beyond our imperial and colonial pasts. Most historic structures have rightly dedicated themselves to education and research, and, along with newly constructed ones, have become leaders in environmental efforts and stewards of biodiversity. Kew, for instance, has played a critical role in protecting Taxus wallichinana, a Nepalese plant from which an anti-cancer drug derives. Though, these initiatives too can be seen as a contemporary embodiment of the same problematic worldview that birthed the structures: a worldview that collects, “protects,” controls, and systematizes the exotic Other.

The modern structures, like their antecedents, exemplify technological advance and trends. Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory (1989), also a modern research institution, was recognized for its energy conservation. The two conservatories at Parc André Citroën (1992) in Paris stand upright through tension cables that underpin skins of glass. Amazon’s Spheres (2018) at its corporate headquarters in Seattle bring nature to its employees so they may “think more collaboratively and creatively” (there are certainly much more cynical interpretations).

And yet, what if a modern conservatory were rooted in and respectful of place and culture, rather than exploitative of them? One of the book’s few glasshouses from the Southern Hemisphere, Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay (2012), offers an example in part. Climate change takes center stage at its Cloud Forest, where the visitor ascends the 135-foot thickly vegetated Cloud Mountain. The path winds through different sections, among them “Lost World, “Earth Check,” and “+5 Degrees,” each revealing calamitous effects of a changing climate on plants.

The anthropological alterations of the planet may have themselves altered the gesture of the conservatory. Our longstanding obsession to cultivate plants divorced from site — of a piece with the driving forces of the climate crisis — has turned out to be a preemptive salve: the modern conservatory has germ in the earth that was.

Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome Conservatory, Singapore / Thebigland / Shutterstock.com, courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

Indeed, from the current vantage point, a visit to a conservatory does seem of the past. In the Covid-19 era, who would elect an indoor nature over that outdoors? But this moment will likely pass, and The Conservatory makes a persuasive argument for the role of conservatories in our contemporary world. The authors’ passion for the structures, and their admiration for the assiduity required to erect and tend them, similarly convinces the reader of their magic.

Grace Mitchell Tada, Associate ASLA, is with Hood Design Studio and co-editor of the new book Black Landscapes Matter.