Author: Benjamin Boyd

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Bruce Sharky Wants You to Start Thinking About Landscape Architecture

For many people not working in the design world, landscape architecture may be a difficult profession to describe. It’s not a term they see in the spotlight often and therefore their assumptions are often woefully inadequate. We have all had someone, when hearing that we are a landscape architect, default to inquiries about designing their front yards and while that is a part of what some of us do, we all know there is so much more to the profession. In Thinking about Landscape Architecture: Principles of a Design Profession for the 21st Century, Bruce Sharky, a professor at Louisiana State University, comprehensively dissects the history and place of the landscape architecture in the modern world. His new book gives a complete overview of the discipline and might greatly serve those that are new to the profession or students who want to learn about what their future career may be like.

Admittedly, if you are already a practicing landscape designer, much of Thinking about Landscape Architecture will not be earth shattering to you – and it isn’t supposed to be. Sharky aims to “provide those new to the subject with the foundations for future study and practice.” With this targeted audience in mind, the book launches into a general, but comprehensive look at the structure of modern day practice. Questions are explored and answered such as:

  • How do I become a professional and why is that important?

  • What is a design studio like?

  • Why is sustainability important?

This guide paints a picture for a future career in landscape architecture as well as the realities of what may be expected of you in a modern design firm. Our profession is very different from many others and it is helpful to the uninitiated to lay out the ground rules early.

After a very brief turn at history, Thinking takes a pass at explaining the general governing concepts of design. The design process is probably the most important aspect of practice and Sharky explains the major points without getting lost in the weeds. While the text comes from a scholarly source – and reads as such – the passages are very approachable which is much appreciated given the intended audience.

Probably the most enjoyable part of the book for me was Chapter 6: Gardens, Communities, Parks, and Urban Design. This clearly shows the breadth of the field and how similar design principles and process can be applied in a wide range of projects. This range allows designers to work within a niche that they find enjoyable or perhaps to shift focuses while maintaining a core set of skills.

There is a chapter on the finer points of planting that includes considerations like seasonality, regionality, growth and survival, as well as aesthetics. Following that is a brief exploration of materials such as metals, woods, and aggregates.

The final chapters outline the process of bringing a design to fruition, sustainability principles, and then the future of the profession in general. The last of these is where I found the text to be more of general trends rather than better exploring the optimistic future of landscape architecture through a topic like landscape urbanism.

Bruce Sharky is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a professor at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He is also a registered professional landscape architect. Other great books by Bruce include Ready, Set, Practice and Landscape Site Grading Principles, the first of which is a staple in most professional practice classes.

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland. If you would like to check out what books he is reading or reviewing currently, check out his profile on Goodreads.

Landscape as Urbanism – Charles Waldheim Outlines the General Theory

Though the title may beg otherwise, there is nothing “general” about Charles Waldheim’s newest book, Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory. For many, landscape urbanism is a realm of theoretical design thinking that they believed might never breach into their daily practice. Those unfamiliar with the movement might have once thought Landscape Urbanism was perhaps a new style of design and even might have written it off altogether after seeing the so called Landscape Urbanism Bullshit Generator a while back. I believe, as does Waldheim it seems, that these folks are in fact at the cusp of a evolution of the field and that the urban issues of today are actually often best addressed by the skill sets of those same landscape architects.

Those who have kept up with the development of the theory, from James Corner’s Landscape Imagination to Chris Reed’s Projective Ecologies, understand that it actually advocates for landscape architects – not planners, urban designers, or architects – to become the focal points of a new era of designing the world around us. Even more boldly, Waldheim surmises that “the fundamental assumption that planning is the medium through which public policy and community participation are brokered may also be open for debate.”

And while it is very empowering to discuss the possibility that landscape architects may be the new leaders in urban design, development has not been without its doubters or naysayers either. New Urbanism’s champion Andres’ Duany asserts that the competing theory’s application as more “practical” in Landscape Urbanism and its Discontents. This is a drum that is continually echoed by those who are working within the current status quo of planning commissions, form based code, or architectural led projects. While there are many examples of this regime shifting, it is important to note that even getting to our current state of green or sustainable awareness has taken decades to push through. The question of whether it is the right method is a case that Waldheim is making it rather thoroughly in this newest book.

A General Theory walks you through the history of planning, architecture, and landscape architecture and makes a case for landscape urbanism’s necessity and, perhaps, inevitability. Waldheim surmises that the impetus to derive a new form of urban thinking came from planning’s focus on a social science model and away from physical design over the past half century. This while urban design “committed to neotraditional models of town planning” (a clear reference to New Urbanism).

Moving beyond its origins, Waldheim argues for a “new understanding of landscape as integral to urban design and planning.” He asserts that, “…landscape thinking enables a more synthetic (derived of observation rather than logic) understanding of the shape of the city, understood in relation to its performance in social, ecological, and economic terms.”

James Corner Field Operations’ High Line in New York City

Waldheim’s examples, and some of the more useful bits of information for those not keeping up with global projects, was a chapter that spotlighted projects reflecting the emerging nature of the theory. Collectively these projects represent “the landscape architect as the urbanist of our age.”

  • Fresh Kills – James Corner Field Operations
  • The High Line – James Corner Field Operations
  • East River Waterfront – Ken Smith Workshop + SHoP
  • Hudson River Park – Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park – Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Governor’s Island – Adriaan Geuze + West8
  • Millennium Park, Lurie Garden – Gustafson, Guthrie, and Nichol
  • Bloomingdale Trail – Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Navy Pier – James Corner Field Operations
  • Northerly Island – Studio Gang Architects
  • Waterfront Toronto – Gueze + Corner + Van Valkenburgh
  • Toronto Central Waterfront
  • Lake Ontario Park
  • Lower Don Lands – Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
  • Longgang Town Center – Architectural Association
  • Qianhai Port City – Various (competition)

All encompassing and thorough, Waldheim’s synthesis is as comprehensive as much as it tends to fall flat for it’s apparent intended layman readers. And while there were moments I felt as if the people over at the Generator were on to something, I also happily found that the vagueness of my ideas surrounding Landscape Urbanism were beginning to clear and my understanding of the big picture was beginning to sharpen, despite some of the verbiage and vocabulary.

While I understand the academic origins of this text and the need to clearly define and structure a theory, plugging every possibility and nuisance with information and assertions, the structure Waldheim text is, in my opinion, sometimes bloated and unnecessarily difficult. Having the word ‘general’ in the title and then exasperating the language left me feeling that either I wasn’t versed enough for something “general” or perhaps the intended audience wasn’t “general.”

The future of landscape urbanism, if it remains to be called that, is in the hands of those out there putting work in the ground. As a landscape architect, I found myself finding a lot of parity in my work with what Waldheim was presenting as design principles. The big difference however, is that often by the time the project makes its way to the landscape architect, the benefits of landscape forward planning have been either compromised or neglected. Therefore, the theory’s assertion that LAs have a larger role to play earlier in the process is both as valid as it is a challenging goal to set.

RELATED LINK: Princeton University Press explains Landscape as Urbanism’s design

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland. If you would like to check out what books he is reading or reviewing currently, check out his profile on Goodreads.

The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects Announces Awards

The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) has recently announced the winners of its National Awards of Excellence. 11 projects received a national award and one project, Lasdowne Park was selected for the Jury’s Award of Excellence, “given to one project per year which best demonstrates the CSLA’s vision of advancing the art, science and practice of landscape architecture.”

Per the CSLA, winners were selected by a national jury of landscape architects. The principal criteria applied by the jurors were:

  • Demonstration of a deep understanding of the craft of landscape architecture and attention to composition and detail
  • Demonstration of excellence in leadership, project management, breadth of work, new directions or new technology o Innovation in concept, process, materials or implementation
  • Promotion of the discipline amongst related professions, clients and the general public
  • Demonstration of exemplary environmental and / or social awareness

Lansdowne Park
PFS Studio
Contact: Greg Smallenberg Category:
Public Landscapes Designed by a Landscape Architect

University of Ottawa Campus Master Plan
Urban Strategies Inc.
Contact: George Dark
Category: Planning & Analysis | Large-Scale Design

Peace Garden at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto City Hall
PLANT Architect Inc.|Perkins + Will Canada in Joint Venture with Hoerr Schaudt Landscape

Architecture and Adrian Blackwell Urban Projects
Contact: Lisa Rapoport
Category: Public Landscapes Designed by a Landscape Architect

The West Don Lands The Planning Partnership and PFS Studio
Contact: David Leinster and Greg Smallenberg
Category: Public Landscapes Designed by a Landscape Architect

City of Toronto: The Grow More Manual
Forest and Field Landscape Architecture
Contact: Matthew Sweig et Michelle Lazar
Category: Research | Communication

230 Sackville
Scott Torrance Landscape Architect Inc.
Contact: Scott Torrance
Category: Residential Landscapes Designed by a Landscape Architect

Bayview Glen Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) Schollen & Company Inc.
Contact: Mark Schollen
Category: New Directions | Conceptual Work

City of Kitchener: Cultural Heritage Landscapes
The Landplan Collaborative Ltd.
Contact: Rod MacDonald
Category: Research | Communication

Technopôle Angus
Contact: Michel Langevin
Category: Planning & Analysis | Large-Scale Design

YUL/MTL: Paysages en mouvement
Chaire en paysage et environnement et Chaire UNESCO en paysage et environnement de
l’Université de Montréal
Contact : Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec
Category: Research | Communication

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland and very much enjoyed that one time he went to Canada so much so that he proposed to his wife there.

Book Review: The Cultivated Wild – Raymond Jungles

When I was a student, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a school field trip to south Florida and tour some of it’s most iconic landscapes. We embarked with the intent of inspiring our young minds with the possibilities of unique and prolific tropical flora as well as the colors, sights, and sounds of South Beach. Though I was struck by the breadth of Fairchild Gardens and the charm of Lincoln Road, the most wonderful part of the trip was a private tour of a sprawling residential landscape by the designer who had actually led the project. I found myself in disbelief that the plants and rocks before me had actually be set there with intent. Everything looked so natural! My classmates and I were dumbfounded and many of us hoped (and still hope) that one day we would have the skill to craft such seamless landscapes. A professor once told me that the greatest compliment he ever received was someone saying he “hadn’t had to do much” on a project that was, in fact, extensive. He knew that though you can’t replicate the complexity of nature, a deft approximation is nevertheless impressive.

All that being said, if anything, Ray Jungles’ third and most recent monograph, The Cultivated Wild, seeks to exemplify the best of his most recent work without simplifying him as only the talented protege of famous Brazilian landscape architect, Roberto Burle Marx. While the project he toured us through was wonderful, this books seems to show off some of Jungles’ projects in more varied locations and plant typologies. The landscape architect’s last book was published in 2008 and named The Colors of Nature: Subtropical Gardens by Raymond Jungles. It was mostly residential, mostly modernist, and mostly in Florida. This book is a “geographic expansion and typological broadening.”

The new book features 21 gardens from his hometown Miami to the Bahamas, but also in less expected places like Mexico, Montana, and at the New York Botanical Garden. Each project is supported by stunning photos, a combination of handdrawn plans and digital graphics, as well as a wealth of descriptions and planting information. In this monograph incarnation, Jungles does a much better job providing scientific names for plants used that can be helpful for readers that are not well versed in tropical typologies.

After an introduction by the venerable Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Jungles leads off with his new Sky Garden at Lincoln Road. The space is above a parking garage but you would hardly know if from the pictures. The design was afforded some planting depth, hard to come by on roof designs, and the designer used every inch of it to sock in a varied palette of philodendrons, grasses, and hardy bromeliads and agaves. Despite what may be a difficult context, Jungles manages to create a naturalistic scene that balances with Herzog & de Meuron’s stark concrete forms.

Down below, Jungles’ most prominent project yet races down an alley of high end shopping and outdoor dining with irregularly shaped fountains and a very Burle Marxian paving pattern. 1111 Lincoln Road is the reimagining and revitalization of one of the most iconic streets in South Beach.

One of the real gems of the book are the hand drawn planting plans like that for the Naples Botanical Garden. Here you can really see the complexity of the plan and it’s something that a fellow practitioner really might find interesting.

My favorite highlighted project is the New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition Brazilian Modern  where Jungles sought to design an orchid show that “reflects the spirit and tropical vibrancy of present-day Brazil.”  The presentation space was very narrow, but allowed a proliferation of orchids to surround and overwhelm a visitor. Pieces of Burle Marx art were also included.

Jungles’ newest monograph is a well conceived and beautiful presentation of the landscape architect’s most recent work. More care has been taken to show process drawings and to identify planting, which is appreciated. I personally would love to have even more information to pair with all the wonderful photographs. Jungles still is able to amaze with his naturalistic designs and mastery of tropical flora. The book itself is a well situated hardcover with crisp, thick pages by Monacelli Press, the publisher of other notable books such as Hummelo by Piet Oudolf and The Authentic Garden by Richard Hartlage. I am very excited to see what the most applicably names landscape architect has in store for us next.

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, MD and sometimes misses getting to use more tropical plants in his designs.

Book Review: Infrastructural Monument and Scaling Infrastructure

A few years ago, the departments of Urban Studies and of Architecture at MIT found that they needed to take their joint workshops and studios to the next level. Subsequently, the Center for Advanced Urbanism was created with the mission to research innovative designs for global problems concerning urbanization. To attain these lofty goals, the CAU built “a community of experts, cities, and organizations who are committed to addressing these challenges.” Two recently published books chronicle two conferences organized by the Center around its first biennial theme – infrastructure. These books represent the first steps in publishing research applicable to “new theoretical frameworks and methodologies appropriate for urbanism of our time.”

Each conference’s book divides itself into panels of 4 individual and varied presenters. In a text format reminiscent of the now ubiquitous TED talks, each presenter gives a synopsis of their field of expertise and a statement of belief in what they see as crucial themes of the future of urban design along with case studies.

The spring 2013 conference, Infrastructural Monument, focused on transforming the tradition role of infrastructure, facilitating the transportation of goods or labor, to something more elevated. Ideas of “culture, public space, architecture, and landscape form” are proposed to augment the last spaces that are shared by everyone, rich or poor, young or old. This is one of the biggest points of the conference and the lynch pin of the overall thesis. Infrastructure is used by everyone. It is the pure democratic expression of  of a civilization because no matter who you are you still have to drive on the road or land at the airport. The are caveats to that notion, but overall the idea is that we should better utilize that mutual capital.

“The future of urbanism will look nothing like it did in the past.”

One of the strengths of these books is the gathering of non-design industry voices to add to the discussion. James Oberstar, a member of Congress until 2011, asserts that infrastructure is “where human experience is transformed into visible signs, symbols, patterns of conduct, systems of order. Here is where the issues of civilization are focused.” This statement sets the tone of the book for me. Emphasizing that the importance of infrastructure as a social construct and not just as a functional requirement opens its potential for more elevated realms of use.

Infrastructure, however, is monstrously complicated. It’s use, scale, lifespan, and location are all subject to political forces and, in America, public opinion. Henk Ovink of Rebuild by Design (RBD) makes the case that though a simple solution is always sought, “if we simplify reality, it will quickly catch up to use and make all our efforts… utterly meaningless.” He believes the embracing complexity allows us to craft solutions that are meaningful. This means changing the status quo, government process of identifying a need, filtering down the program, and then at the end reaching out to designers. He believes that shifting the trajectory of planning will require embracing research by design as a political tool.

“Collaboration through alliances is key.”


The following conference, Scaling Infrastructure, sought to explore the phenomenon of growing and shrinking cities in response to population shifts. Often the focus surrounds cities that are growing and the positivity, potential new residents, and industry that brings. However, cities on the decline, often due to a loss of industry, have their own challenges if they are to reduce their infrastructural burden and best serve their existing populations.

Coincidentally, my home town of Baltimore Maryland was recently thrust into the news for comparative reasons. Like Detroit, the city and state are beginning an initiative to demolish whole blocks of the city that have been vacant for decades. All this time they have been sitting empty – ripe for nefarious uses. This strategy isnt new. Though, while Baltimore has a spotlight on it today, it didn’t even crack the top 25 cities in terms of vacancy rates. Places like New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Las Vegas are riddled with empty housing that slowly saps the city of it’s resources. As more and more populations become mobile, the issue of unused infrastructure connecting to these underpopulated areas becomes a major concern that needs innovative solutions.

In this volume, Moderator Brent Ryan focused on the decline of cities and the fundamental issue surrounding loss of population. Ryan explains that the increasing mobility of capital and the trend of prosperous people having less children and higher rates of relocation creates a difficult problem that is in contrast to the usual focus on the increasing needs of growing cities.

Sonja Beeck of Chezweitz asserts that “90 percent of our cities are built. The task we have now is change management.” She shows that Germans, dealing with population decline in various areas due to loss of industry, focused a variety of approaches of revitalizing those regions to better adapt to the future. By implementing more flexible approaches, stable systems can be developed more easily over time.

Challenging the questions of our urban future is a crucial exercise that is taken head on in these two conferences and accompanying manuscripts. New challenges arise with each passing day and designers must meet them with innovative, thoughtful, and implementable solutions. These companions books a wealth of ideas applied to the spectrum of urbanity’s issues. 

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland and enjoys the benefits of living in the city despite its challenges.

Design Intelligence 2016 Landscape Architecture Program Rankings

Design Intelligence, purveyors of annual school rankings, recently released their 10 best landscape architecture schools for 2016.  The America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools survey is conducted annually by DesignIntelligence on behalf of the Design Futures Council. The research ranks undergraduate and graduate programs from the perspective of leading practitioners. The 16th annual survey was conducted in mid-2015. 

The top 3 in undergraduate studies remain unchanged since 2015. However, Cal Poly dropped 3 spots to be overtaken by Georgia and Texas A&M. In graduate studies, Harvard and UPenn stay #1 and #2 while Berkeley drops four spots to #8.

Another indicator of success could be the 2015 ASLA Student Awards whose recipients by and large go to the schools below.

To check out the full report, including surveys of professors and students, the 2016 edition available for purchase for $40.

  1. Louisiana State University
  2. Pennsylvania State University
  3. Cornell University
  4. University of Georgia
  5. Texas A&M University
  6. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
  7. Purdue University
  8. Ball State University (tie)
  9. Iowa State University (tie)
  10. Ohio State University
  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Pennsylvania
  3. Louisiana State University
  4. Cornell University
  5. University of Virginia
  6. Kansas State University
  7. Pennsylvania State University
  8. University of California, Berkeley
  9. Texas A&M University
  10. University of Georgia
Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland and hopes you wont hold it against him that he didn’t go to a school on this list.

Book Review: Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks

In 2011, the term “infographic” was added to Webster’s English Dictionary and solidified a popular movement to increase the visual expression of data for the general public. Before and since that word has been either praised for simplifying information or derided for overcomplicating or obfuscating for the sake of a graphic. What we all can agree on is that the best infographics are well thought out and present a clear message. Strategy and planning are important keys to the success of a graphic.
Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Rick Landers is the first publication to show the process that leads up to the creation of infographics. It features 73 case studies that show a wide range of both data and mediums. The projects range from your common “magazine-style” data presentation to some unexpected places.
Infographics have been around since the 19th century, however, it is only in recent decades that the art of data visualization has been rigorously geared toward the general public’s consumption. The internet provides an endless medium that has spawned both an opportunity for good design, as well as a wealth of less than useful examples. Infographics Designers’ Sketchbooks seeks to show how the best and most innovative people work toward a finished product. The process is often messy and less than polished – with various ideas tested and refined. The book offers a glimpse into the working mind of a designer rather than only presenting you with the finished graphic. What we learn is that, often, the process is just as interesting as the product.
Christopher Cannon of Bloomberg Visual Data grapples with massive amounts of data. He employs a stark style, often with just a few colors, to emphasize contrasts in data. Because the data is usually displayed online, tables become interactive presentations that users can highlight, reorganize, and explore on their own.
Zach Davenport and Michael Yap were interested in how New York’s new bike sharing program, Citi Bike, was being utilized. The amount of data they gathered was staggering, a fact that is less apparent in the clarity of the resulting diagrams. From the onset, the pair storyboarded how the resulting graphics would look in a presentation, regardless of what the actual data was showing. This provided a framework to curate individual points they wanted to make about the data they found. The result is a very legible infographic.

Serge Seidlitz is a former designer turned illustrator that represents information in a vastly different way than the two previously mentioned designers. His illustrations are whimsical and less reliant on data. His goal is to convey an overall idea at first glance while also breaking down the many facets of that idea. The work that is shown in Illustrators often takes one large form and breaks it down into individual points of information.

I found Infographics to be particularly useful in reflecting on my own process of graphic representation. Often, landscape architects are required to create seemingly simple diagrams to relate their process to clients – many of whom are not designers at all. One level of explanation is in the design’s final state. Another, arguably more important, are in the other layering elements that comprise the project. Program, circulation, ecology, etc need to be considered and related in a manner that all can understand. Architecture is for people, after all – even those that may never fully understand  the complexities of your design. Infographics reminds us that even the smallest diagrams deserve thoughtful consideration and that there is a careful balance between too much and too little information.

One caveat, I will say, is that the book is image heavy. Many of the sketches are very interpretive, with maybe a sentence or two to describe the thought process behind them. That being said, it was a feat to gather all these process pieces when most designers may have just thrown process out. Some examples could have had a little more explanation.

The physical book is large and does a great job of presently rough and, some would say, “ugly” sketches in an attractive manner. The are numerous and varied examples which made leafing through it a fun task. Inevitably, some of the final products may not be to one’s taste, but the sheer number of entries will surely provide you with no loss of inspiration. Thick, full-color pages make the quality of the read enjoyable.

Looking for other great resources for your design library?
We’ve curated a whole library of essential Landscape Architecture Books >>

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the MFA Design Department at the School of Visual Arts and the author of many books on graphic design, including Shadow Type and Typography Sketchbooks. Rick Landers is a founding partner and co-creative director of graphic design studio Landers Miller Design.
Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks is available now through Princeton Architectural Press.

Book Review: Mellon Square – Discovering a Modern Masterpiece

Fresh off it’s six-year long renovation, Pittsburgh’s Mellon Square is recognized as one of the preeminent examples of urban renewal and as the first mixed-use modern garden built over parking. Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece chronicles the plaza’s development through a smoke ridden industrial age into the city’s first renaissance and beyond. It is a space beloved by Pittsburgh’s citizens – even when it wasn’t in its most pristine state.

Mellon Square is the second book in the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Modern Landscapes series and the definitive book on the development of one of Pittsburgh’s most innovative landscapes. In the years post World War II, Pittsburgh saw its state as an industrial-centric city diminish and found that, like many other rust belt cities, the sacrifices made in the public realm to accommodate the needs of business were beginning to cause real harm. Big businesses made plans to leave the city and new residents were hard to attract. “Smokey City” had a reputation for being rough and polluted.

Mellon Square - 02
Richard King Mellon recognized the need to change the image of downtown Pittsburgh’s “Golden Triangle” after assuming control of his family’s bank. He spearheaded an effort with the city’s civic and business leadership to create Mellon Square and bring some green space back into the heart of the city.
The book itself is full of diagrams and sketches that show the process of the architects, James Mitchell and Dahlen Ritchey, and landscape architects, John Simonds and Phillip Simonds. There is a welcome focus on the influence Walter Gropius had on John Phillips and the legacy of his Harvard “class of rebels.”

Mellon Square - 04

Despite the overall success of the square, recent years has seen the need to revitalize a space for a new generation of Pittsburgh’s citizens. The major restoration is being lead by Patricia O Donnel of Heritage Landscapes and “aims to restore this urban garden and help revitalize downtown Pittsburgh.”
 This writer admits that the review of this book came later that planned, but with good reason. A planned trip to Pittsburgh over the holidays to visit family seemed like an excellent opportunity to check out the new and improved square (and also a nearby Primanti Brothers sandwich). Even in the winter months, it would be nice to see the details up close. No such luck, however, as I was greeted with the below sign upon arrival.
It is rather disappointing to think that, in a place where the winter months can be cold and disconcerting, one of the best open spaces in a city is off limits to its citizens. Apparently there is a good reason for its closure related to maintenance and safety, but I believe that a minimum requirement of a park “highest and best use” should be that is open – even in a limited capacity. Better luck in the spring I suppose.
Ultimately, Mellon Square is a sweeping, detailed recap of the exciting history of a modern, milestone of landscape architecture. Today’s designers are often addressing congruent concerns about the redevelopment of outdated, polluted, or underutilized spaces in crowded city centers. The lessons of development, need for private backing, and quantitative results related to the success of Mellon Square can inform the solutions of modern cities. While “mixed-use” has been the cornerstone of many a development in the last few decades, understanding the fundamental shift in design theory is rooted in acknowledging its pioneers. Admittedly, a car park isn’t the shiniest example on which to hang a tectonic shift in planning mantra, but it is often these challenges that are the backbone for a city’s reimagined, prosperous future.
Susan Rademacher is parks curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, preserving, enhancing, and promoting the cultural significance of parks through master planning and project design. Previously, she was president of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy and assistant director of Louisville Metro Parks. Her published books include Bold Romantic GardensOutdoor Living Spaces; and Garden Design: History, Principles, Elements, Practice. A former editor in chief of Landscape Architecture magazine, she was also a founding editor of Garden Design magazine. Rademacher was a Loeb Fellow of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is a graduate of Miami University.
Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, FAAR is the Founder and President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF). He has authored and edited numerous publications, including Shaping the American Landscape (2009), Design with Culture: Claiming America’s Landscape Heritage (Press 2005), and Pioneers of American Landscape Design (2000), among others.Release Date – November 18th, 2014

Review: Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture – 2nd Edition

The advent of the digital age has long been upon us. For most practices, this has created an interesting mix of skill sets within an office. Recent graduates have a great handle on the most current programs while those that have been in the industry for a little longer are finding themselves playing catch up. More often than not, a general amount of knowledge and appreciation is present, but the ability to produce the most striking of visuals is usually not there. Digital Drawing for Landscape Architecture is a comprehensive presentation of easy to follow tutorials and guides to help the digitally aware become the digitally adept. 

Digital Drawing is the most recent offering by Bradley Cantrell and Wes Michaels. Bradley has been featured here on Land8 in 2013 as the recent winner of the Rome Prize Fellowship. The book is not best for those that are just starting out with the programs that the industry uses everyday. However, if you are versed enough recognize some of the tools that are in play, this book can take you to the next level. In a world where everyone is going digital, there is a subtle difference between a computer drawing and a finely tuned illustrative rendering. Understanding what it takes to elevate your techniques is crucial to having your work stand out amongst the others.
The second edition of this ASLA award winning book includes over 50 new examples and has updated all graphics to be aligned with the most up to date applications. When first published in 2012, Digital Drawing won an national ASLA Award of Excellence because of its ability to “bridge analog and digital landscape representation techniques” as well as “provide context for how we use digital media as designers and landscape architects.”

Digital Drawing does an excellent job of stressing the important things about this form of graphic making – flexibility is key. You can achieve the same result a multitude of ways, however, your ability to adjust a graphic quickly down the road will vastly improve the efficiency of your overall project.

Some highlights include Chapter 3 which explores the basic concepts of digital rendering. Though these are introductory – they still can be complicated for a beginner designer. The authors provide a great refresher for even the studio weary rendering specialist. If you are anything like me, then you picked up how to use Photoshop and Illustrator on your own through experimentation (read: frustration). Digital Drawing takes you back through the basics to remind you of the simple things that you may have never picked up. Do you remember the subtle difference between opacity and fill or perhaps the merits of different masks and when to use each?

Some of the most seemingly mundane tasks that are part of a graphic’s construction are given entire chapters in Digital Drawing – and for good reason. Chapter 8 gives some quick but extremely useful directives for managing large files while Chapter 18 is 10+ pages on importing PDF line work. I believe that getting these mandatory techniques correct is very important because it sets the tone for the rest of your work on a given product. Better layer management, for instance, can be the difference between a quick, last minute edit and a sluggish, deadline missing revision.

Ultimately, Digital Drawing is an excellent resource for students, entry level designers, and those looking to refine their graphic skills for actual workplace applications. Even a person who believes themselves to be well versed in the ways of Photoshop, Illustrator, etc, such as myself, can find a ton of useful time saving tricks and refined techniques to make their workflow more efficient.

Looking for other great resources for your design library? 
Head over to our resource section where we have curated a collection of essential Landscape Architecture Books >>

About the Authors:

Bradley Cantrell is Principal of Visual Logic and Associate Professor of Architectural Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Bradley has been interviewed here on Land8 in 2013 as the recent winner of the Rome Prize Fellowship. 
WES MICHAELS is a Principal at Spackman Mossop Michaels Landscape Architecture and an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University.

Benjamin Boyd is a licensed landscape architect working Baltimore, Maryland and is a proud graduate of the University of Florida School of Landscape Architecture. He also writes at Landscape Invocation.

Review: Private Landscapes – Modernist Gardens in Southern California

Modern landscapes are a dime a dozen these days, but have you ever wondered how they got started? “Private Landscapes” by Pamela Burton and Marie Botnick explores the development of modernist gardens in this updated paperback reprint of the 2003 original. The book profiles twenty significant homes and landscape gardens created by celebrated architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Gregory Ain, Raphael Soriano, Harwell Hamilton Harris, A. Quincy Jones, and John Lautner. Although the Southern California modernist style has been abundantly covered by architectural books over the years, “Private Landscapes” shines the spotlight on the landscapes that helped create a harmonious relations with the home design. 

The modernism movement is generally regarded as a European movement (see: Bauhaus), but there are many examples of modernist design in Southern California dating back to 1911, such as the works of Irving Gill. Gill was one of many American architects that contrasted European designers such as Mies van der Rohe in that they included the landscape as an integral park of their designs. The most significant leap in the modernist movement occurred with the arrival of Garrett Eckbo, who brought his work in and around Los Angeles between 1945 and 1965.

The first six projects focus on Richard Nuetra and chronicle his rise to fame on an international scale. Nuetra had only completed one major commission by 1932, the Lovell House, before he was included in the “International Exhibition of Modern Architecture” in New York. By 1949, he was on the cover of Time magazine. Nuetra’s houses are spectacular and Private Landscapes does an excellent job of highlighting how the landscape and plan considerations created the architect’s innovative designs.

(Related Article: Five Modernist Landscape Architects)

The book then begins to break down a plethora of other mid-century gardens by various architects that were built anywhere from 1934 to 1963. Notably mentioned here are Saphael Soriano’s Richard Strauss House (1940) and Joseph Van der Kar’s Albert Wohlstetter House. There is a nice mix of original photography and present day condition photographs that give you a great sense of the passage of time. Many of the homes look downright new and are representative of current styles and minimalist trends. Mostly, I am a fan of the plans and diagrams that the authors managed to include. There are initial brainstorming ideas, planting plans with bold colors, and a few nice detailed ones that must have been done specifically for the book.

Overall, Private Landscapes explores a very influential era in private architectural design. On a residential scale, the use of materials, splashes of color, and space management become ever more important elements because of scale. It is impressive to see many of these homes cared for and in great conditions after all these decades. The book is filled with big glossy and beautiful photographs shot by Tim Street-Porter. Hopefully, the southern California sun and foliage will be as inspiring to you as it was to me.


Lead image of Pamela Burton via Pamela Burton & Company

Looking for other great resources for your design library? 
Head over to our resource section where we have curated a collection of essential Landscape Architecture Books >>

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape designer in Baltimore, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @benboyduf.

Norway’s “Memorial Wound” for Victims of Massacre is Beautiful Land Art

It’s been nearly three years since a right-wing extremist blew up a bomb in the city of Oslo and then attacked a summer camp on the coast of Norway. These horrifying terror attacks claimed 77 lives in total, marking the deadliest attack in Norway since World War II

To commemorate the victims, Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg was recently awarded the bid to design Norway’s memorial after a closed competition. Titled the “Memorial Wound,” the winning entry uses land art as a major component.


The first memorial will be located on the Sørbråten peninsula facing the island of Utøya. The memorial is designed to be a “wound or cut within nature itself,” says Dahlberg. “I noticed how different the feeling was of walking outside in nature, compared to the feeling of walking through the rooms of the main building. The experience of seeing the vacant rooms and the traces of extreme violence brought me—and others around me—to a state of profound sadness.”

Outside, however, the environment feels very different, as though nature was already in regeneration. “Although we stood directly on the very place where many people had lost their lives, nature had already begun to obscure all traces,” he explains.

The design concept slices the rocky promontory in two, creating a 70-foot wide channel between the two land masses. The names of the victims will be inscribed on one side of the gap and a viewing platform for visitors will be located opposite. “The names will be close enough to see and read clearly, yet ultimately out of reach,” says Dahlberg, “the cut is an acknowledgement of what is forever irreplaceable.”

To strengthen the connection between the two memorial sites, Dahlberg proposes using excavated material from the “wound” in Utøya as the foundation for the temporary–and later permanent–memorial in Oslo. Trees and plant life from the rocky island landscape would also be transported to the Oslo site as well.

Similar to the design at Utoya, the Oslo memorial will cut into the land to create another “channel.” One side of the channel is enclosed by a curving wall engraved with the names of those who perished in the attacks, a design reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The other side would consist of seating or steps that connect to an elevated landscape planted with Utoya trees.

These “symbols of regeneration,” writes Dalhberg, “from the trees along with the inscribed names, will be transferred to the permanent memorial, carrying with them the patina and fullness that comes with the passage of time.”

Via BustlerGizmodo

Images via KORO
Benjamin Boyd is a landscape designer in Baltimore, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @benboyduf.

LARE 101: 10+ Essential Resources for Section 4 Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation

LARE’s Section 4: Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation is, in my opinion, the hardest portion of the exam. It has the lowest passing rate of any section – before and after the change in format. You will find in your preparation for this section that there is a wide range of topics that need to be covered, most of which you have seen, but probably haven’t mastered.

For me, the most difficult of the 120 questions were those pertaining to grading and specific construction details. I would encourage everyone who is thinking of taking Section 4 to give yourself a few months of studying in order to cover the wealth of material out there. There is only one year’s worth of up to date practice tests, but there is a lot you can take from previous incarnations. If you have already taken Section 3 then you are going to be familiar with the advanced question types that are present on this section. There is a lot of detail in this section so I would just be patient and expect to learn a bunch of information that may not show up on the test. That huge list of fasteners that you have to memorize may seem like overkill, but you can expect it to help you on at least one question (it did for me).


Section 4 of the LARE focuses solely on Construction Documentation. There are advanced type questions, multiple choice, and multiple response questions. If you are not familiar with the advanced type questions, take a moment to watch ASLA’s video overview of the new computerized format.

Before moving forward – please take a look at CLARB’s LARE Orientation Guide if you haven’t already.


Because of the difficulty and breadth of Section 4, there are more than usual online resources for it. The ASLA has put out study guides and examples as well as the aforementioned video.

ASLA LARE Prep Study Materials
ASLA has provided a good amount of examples and guides for your Section 3+4 studying needs. They pin point some of the more difficult and multidimensional questions on the exam. These are provided for free as opposed to the practice tests listed further down. I would also like to spotlight their Section 4 Review Materials as a good starting resource.

LARE Exam Google Group
One of the best places on the Internet right now to get study materials as well as feedback on questions that you might have about the exam is the unofficial LARE EXAM Google group. Here hundreds of test takers as well as test prep professionals exchange exam tips and study materials.

L.A.R.E. – ANYTHING GOES Land8 Group
If you haven’t already joined Brandon Reed’s Land8 LARE group, what are you waiting for? This is also another fantastic resource for members to swap study materials and ask questions.

Digital Flash Cards
Using flash cards is one of my favorite ways to study, especially if they’ve been pre-made. Many people – including myself – have created personal study material flashcards that are ready to use. Making your own flashcards is a great way to study however, so I still encourage you to create your own set tailored to your own preferences. I would also recommend installing a flashcard app that links to a site like Cram so you have your cards on the go.

CLARB Practice Test
These are a must-have if you want the most accurate representation of topics covered in the new exam.

PPI: Power to Pass Exam Reviews
PPI has long provided test prep materials including practice exams and study guides. The books are written by professors and professionals in the industry and are a good overall resource to study for the new exam formats. They seem to have retrofitted their older Section A-E materials into a new package for Sections 1-4, however which may make the materials a little less accurate than before.

Kevin Worthington’s LARE Study Guides

Cheryl Corson Design Webinars
Land8 member Cheryl Corson is well known for her LARE webinars and her great advice for taking the LARE. Cheryl has a good focus on Section 4 and her personal experiences passing it.

Local Test Prep Course
Take a look and see if there is a test prep course in your area. Some colleges offer courses or you may be able to find a practitioner that is getting their side-hustle on.

The Section 4 reading list has a few hold overs from Section 3, but adds one important text. Site Engineering is a very useful book that outlines a variety of topics that will be covered in the Section 4. All of the books on the below list are very large and, as with other tests, I would recommend a good study guide to accompany these. If you have given yourself enough time to go through each and take notes then you are ahead of the game. If not, then go out and pick up a study guide to help you outline your study targets.

Site Engineering for Landscape Architects  |  Strom, Nathan, Woland

Site Engineering is an essential book for understanding the actual construction of land forms. This book includes more recent details of green stormwater management options, a new focus of the test, as well as other complex construction concepts. Because of the new content of the 6th edition vs earlier editions, I would recommend picking up the newest book if possible. There is a more concerted focus on green infrastructure which coincides with the new versions of the test. Though I wouldn’t say the book is “intellectually stimulating” as the publisher does, I would say that the topics are important and this book is a must have for studying.

Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards | Hopper
While you should have a solid understanding of the contents of this book already. It never hurts to touch up on your graphical standards. For Section 4, the diagrams of common construction details can be very beneficial for studying. This book is also listed for Section 3: Design.

Time Saver Standards for Landscape Architects | Harris and Dines
This book is every landscape architect’s best friend. It will remind you of minimum turning radii, maximum slope on ramps, etc etc. However, it will also bog you down with a huge amount of information if you are not careful. As a former student, you should be familiar with this book. Pay careful attention to the topics provided by CLARB in the Orientation Guide and tailor your reading to it. If you don’t already own a copy then you should. Lest you spend over an hour searching the internet for angled parking standards. This book is also listed for Section 3: Design.

Landscape Architect’s Portable Handbook  |  Dines and Brown
Don’t let this book’s title fool you. At 400 pages and $65 the “portable” handbook is just as massive as some of the other books in this list. While if does do a nice job over quickly covering a variety of topics, I personally would not recommend it to those that are purchasing the above books. It outlines roughly some of the same things and doesn’t really add any sort of new material. At best, this book is a reduced version of Time Saver Standards. If are not able to get your hands on a copy of TSS, then this book may be a good substitute. However, if you are already covering the rest of this list then I would let this one slide.


Unlike Section 3, older vignettes are a good study resource for Section 4. The advanced type grading questions are roughly the same with addition of a possible answer bank and a computerized format. I would encourage you to take a look at the examples provided by ASLA mentioned in the “Study Materials” section. Section 4 is a monster of a test that covers the largest amount of material. For me, it was the only exam that I left feeling totally unsure of my result. As with other sections, you are only graded on the questions you get correct. However, there are many questions that require you to have solved a different question in order to answer it. Grading questions are one example of this. Take your time and try to no overthink your answers. You are inevitable going to come to a few questions that you don’t know the answer to. Take an educated guess, flag the question, and move on. Often there are clues in the rest of the exam that can help you go back and make a better choice.

Good luck!

This is part of an ongoing series spotlighting the Landscape Architecture Registration Examination (LARE) administered by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB). If you have any resources that you can add to this guide we would be happy to include you and give you credit. Please contact the author Benjamin Boyd if you have any additional resources that you’d like to share.

Images via Bryan D. Kniep and Benjamin Boyd.

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