Author: Madeline Kirschner

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Next Generation Playscapes! [Land8x8 Video]

Sara Bonacquist is a landscape architect at Design Workshop in Denver. As a landscape architect, she understands the importance of playgrounds and outdoor play environments for children. These are critical spaces where kids experiment, find joy, express creativity, collaborate with other kids, and find community. At the Land8x8 Lightning Talks, Sara noted the responsibility and influence landscape architects have over the outdoor spaces that shape the next generation of play.

“We have come a long way, but the fundamental play theories discussed are the same. We need to design mentally and physically challenging places, based in specific places/contexts, that are safe, but still fun, and accessible to everyone.” Sara recounts some of the earliest play theories:

  • The earliest American and European playgrounds emphasized the importance of interacting with natural materials such as sand, water, and wood. 
  • In the early 1900s, the American Association of Playgrounds was established, creating its ideal playground design centered on fitness. The tall structures and steep climbs allowed kids to feel large at the landscape scale. 
  • Following World War II, junk playgrounds emerged in bombed-out spaces that provided debris to play with. This era represented free play in the truest sense of the word. Think of literal trash fires. Play at your own risk. 
  • In the 1950s, manufacturing and mass-produced novelty playgrounds became standard. Thematic elements become popular, lacking any correlation with the spirit of place. 
  • Simultaneously, lawsuits led to standardized playground safety requirements. As designers engineered safety in, they designed the fun out. 
land8x8 playgrounds design workshop

Image: Design Workshop

Today, we can combine older ideas of play with newer ideas of equity, empowerment, and education to address present issues. Sara highlights Ruby Hill Park, a Design Workshop project in Southwest Denver, as a precedent for the potential of park spaces.

Ruby Hill Park embodies the natural spirit of Colorado as it straddles urban and natural environments and provides outdoor recreation opportunities. While the city has done a fantastic job of bringing together quintessential Colorado amenities to Ruby Hill, there are barriers to access such as gear taxes, a lack of information, and general confidence in the activities.

Working to remove barriers, the team designed an equitable park with free programming that included various activities and challenge levels. A gear library on-site allows people to rent skis, snowboards, bikes, and safety gear to use on the existing 7-acre mountain bike course. Classes are provided for kids to learn about building and maintaining their gear.  

The splash pad takes design cues from the neighboring Platt River bend, while the wayfinding signage borrows motifs from local pollinators. Overall, the space should feel safe, encouraging kids to move at their own pace, choosing to opt in or out of any experience. Creative solutions such as these allow space for kids of all ability levels to play side by side, continuing to grow in the space as they grow older and gain confidence. 

“I think what makes this project so cool is the equity and empowerment component. For kids to be able to come here and not only remove the gear tax barrier but then to empower themselves to ride a mountain bike. to ski or snowboard. perhaps graduating onto the greater BMX course or out into the mountains.”

This video was filmed on January 19, 2023 in , NY as part of the Land8x8 Lightning Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Shifting Paradigms: Collaboration in Practice [Land8x8 Video]

At the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Denver, CO, Founder + Principal of Studio Siembra, Magdalena (Maggie) Aravena, offered insight into how the practice of landscape architecture can be transformed by new models of collaboration. A first-generation Chilean, her service and practice have always revolved around people. “Siembra,” her firm name, stems from the Spanish word “to sow” – “Sowing seeds of optimism, resilience, and beauty is what we’re doing, or what we should be doing with practice.” 

Recognized as ASLA’s 2021 recipient of the Emerging Professional Medal, Magdalena is an admired professional within the Landscape Architecture community. With seven years of previous landscape architecture experience, Maggie knew there was potential to think outside of the box when it came to the future of her career. She notes the potential of “leaning away from competitive and insular practices towards more collaborative practices where we reach across other firms and teams to fill needs we may not have within our own team”. 

maggie aravena land8x8

Opening a practice of her own helped Magdalena to grasp three lessons that she may not have learned otherwise: 

  1. BE BOLD. In her case, being bold meant reaching out to the exemplary landscape architect, Gina Ford, founder of Agency Design. By pitching herself as a collaborator, she was able to fill a gap in technical expertise for one project. This opportunity allowed Maggie to work with a group of designers she may not have otherwise encountered.  
  2. Prioritize Community + Mission Alignment. Maggie speaks to the robust collaboration and partnership with Kelley Oklesson, from Groundsmith Collective, based in Maryland. By focusing on the people who they are designing for, the type of project does not matter as much. As long as the two are aligned on their values, she knows the duo will keep working on projects that model how they can bring beauty, sustainability, and life to spaces such as middle class residential homes. 
  3. Don’t Abandon Relationships. Maggie used this opportunity to highlight another firm speaking at the Land8x8 event, Studio Superbloom. The two studios have tried to collaborate for the past year on proposals that did not end up being fruitful. Despite that, there has been an undying commitment to ensure that, as collaborators and friends, they are advocating for one another. While they have not been able to work directly together (yet), they have cultivated a fellowship as female designers who started a new path post pandemic. 

Maggie concludes, “I really hope that we all, collaboratively, as an industry, lean more heavily towards the collaborative nature that we all have in us, and we move further away from the competition. I know that not every team is perfect and could benefit from an outside perspective, and so I hope that this helps to challenge what that could be. If we stick together, we can all come up together.”

This video was filmed on January 19, 2023 in , NY as part of the Land8x8 Lightning Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Landscape Architecture + Climate Action [Land8x8 Video]

During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Denver, Torey Carter-Conneen, the CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), joined seven other speakers to kick-off this set of talks centered around the theme, “Next Practices in Landscape Architecture”. He began with a question that landscape architects get asked regularly while interacting with the public: “What is Landscape Architecture?”

As the leader of the largest national membership organization for landscape architects, Torey routinely introduces the profession to people who may or may not know what landscape architecture is. Simply put, landscape architects utilize a unique combination of skills: design, art, and science, according to Torey. From the intentionality of pathway materials, spacing of trees, or the direction of water flow, to name a few examples, he acknowledges how instrumental the profession is in mitigating the effects of the climate crisis and the impact of global biodiversity loss. This brings about another question that he is frequently asked: “So, you mean to tell me landscape architects are helping to solve these big issues?”

land8x8 torey slide

Landscape architects are taught to deliver innovative, multi-faceted solutions. Upon surveying Landscape Architects around the country, ASLA found that 65% of professionals were being asked by clients to design sustainable solutions that are often nature-based and climate positive. Trained to address issues such as rising heat in urban cities, precedents like Mithun’s Seattle project, Taylor 28, highlight how designers can work at the site scale to divert 7500 square feet of ground from becoming asphalt to landscaped areas. At a larger scale, firms like SCAPE model how landscape architects can partner with nonprofits and municipalities to address rising sea levels. With the release of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) Coastal Master Plan, this unified vision will guide efforts to restore coastlands and preserve vulnerable communities.  

All sectors of the economy will grapple with how to adapt to climate-related impacts, but landscape architects are uniquely positioned to lead the conversations related to a site’s sustainability and community benefit. Torey believes that by implementing goals found in ASLA’s Climate Action Plan, more people will be aware of the profession due to the reach of our climate solutions. 

The Climate Action plan is broken into two parts, the Plan and the Field Guide. The plan speaks to what the organization is doing, while the field guide suggests tangible steps for putting these goals into action. Ambitious in its nature, the plan has been noted as “the most consequential goal-based agenda to be produced by the professional association in its 123-year history.” Excitement is in the now. Funding sources, such as the Infrastructure Act, provide a hopeful glimpse into the future where landscape architects are primed to take the lead.  

“So the next time someone asks you what you do at a dinner party, you are changing and designing their communities so that it is safer, more accessible, more equitable and healthier for not just the most affluent, but for everyone,” Torey concluded. For more information about his visit to Colorado, check out his blog “Views” in this month’s edition of the Landscape Architecture Magazine. 

This video was filmed on January 19, 2023 in , NY as part of the Land8x8 Lightning Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Climate Action Plan Published for Landscape Architects

In the same week that the Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap was announced by the U.S. Federal Government, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) released its official Climate Action Plan. This document provides a roadmap for how the organization can achieve zero emissions by 2040, partnered with a companion field guide, listing tools for landscape architecture firms, organizations, and designers to follow suit. Seeds of hope, sown long ago, are sprouting.

Landscape architects are systems designers who plan and design with living soils, water, plants, trees, and people – with life. Landscape Architects acknowledge that the climate and biodiversity crises are interconnected challenges of our time. Acting with the tools we know how, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to sequester carbon on projects, lowering emissions, in a way that provides the greatest benefit to the diverse communities we serve.

Upon opening the Climate Action Plan, the first quote highlights the words of Deb Haaland, member of the Pueblo of Laguna Native American tribe and U.S. Secretary for the Department of the Interior:

“We must shift our thinking away from short-term gain toward long-term investment and sustainability, and always have the next generations in mind with every decision we make.”

This document represents the shift back to indigenous perspectives and knowledge regarding the land. Moving past land acknowledgments, we dually acknowledge the harm done to indigenous communities and commit to protecting the most vulnerable populations, who are often at the front of climate disasters around the world, in the future. This plan stands on three pillars surrounding (1) Equity (2) Practice and (3) Advocacy.  As we look at the work left to do, we can learn from our indigenous ancestors who have already crafted innovative technologies that help us move towards a more equitable future, for all.

Secondly, this action plan represents a shift towards genuine care for the quality world that we pass down to future generations. Three years prior to the release of this plan, a group of students and emerging professionals recognized as ASLA ADAPT wrote a letter to ASLA, concerned about the profession’s lack of advocacy and support for political and protest movements surrounding the climate disaster. Younger generations were key in this plan’s development and should be key in its implementation, as well.

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Sarah Fitzgerald, Pamela Conrad, and Vaughn Rinner | Image: ASLA

Unpacking the document, the plan is broken into two parts: (1) the Climate Action Plan and (2) the Climate Action Field Guide. The Field Guide is an important component of the set because, there, you can sink your teeth into 94 pages of tangible action steps, toolkits, and resources that landscape architects (and allied designers) can use to advocate at the various levels of power: within your institutions, organizations, firms, and communities. No one is expected to complete every task. Instead, the guide becomes an opportunity to highlight the range of innate talents that span our profession and welcome more diverse, future practitioners.

The average person may not understand what a 2-3 degree temperature rise means for the planet, nonetheless, the difference between words like “net zero” or “zero emissions”. The answer to impactful climate solutions does not depend merely on innovation, but rather on our ability to communicate the value of our economic, environmental, and social solutions to the public and elected officials. Landscape architects can design and build projects that are not only meant to be carbon neutral but go further and become “climate positive”, meaning that over their lifespan, they sequester more greenhouse gas emissions than they embody or produce.

While the plan was launched during the 2022 ASLA Conference, it is exciting to see the work already being done by members of the ASLA community. New tools, workflows, and advocacy methods are being harnessed and were spoken to throughout the conference.

Integrating climate best practices into their daily workflow, team members from Seattle-based firm GGLO, spoke about how they incorporate tools like the Pathfinder Carbon Calculator and other Revit plugins into the various phases of the design, making calculated decisions related to their project’s materiality and carbon footprint throughout the design process. We look towards firms like these as precedents for future practice and hope to see their presence on a larger scale at the conference.

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Pamela Conrad, José M. Almiñana, Diane Allen Jones, Sarah Fitzgerald | Image: ASLA

Thanks are in order to the volunteers of the Climate Action Plan Task Force who brought this plan to life. Led by Pamela Conrad, designer of the Pathfinder Carbon Calculator, the task force members included: Diane Allen Jones, Sarah Fitzgerald, Vaughn Rinner, and José Almiñana. It is important to them that this document does not become another plan on the shelf, but a living, breathing document that adapts as ASLA and its Climate Action Committee receive feedback regarding the implementation of these large goals.

This work was not done alone; your work should not be alone; and lastly, this work will need to be done for a long time. We have heard of resiliency, right? I invite you to read the Guide alone, but I also encourage you to find a community to delve into these weighty issues. As Kate Orff and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson closed out the general session, they encouraged us to start the work by answering these three questions for ourselves and work: 1) What work needs to be done? 2) What are you good at? 3) What brings you joy?

Sarah Fitzgerald, of the task force and SWA, also reminds me, “A burnt-out employee is not a good climate advocate.” Neither is someone paralyzed by the future. While reading this plan, please take time to dream as we have been taught. Question. Sketch. Celebrate. The Climate Action Plan marks the unified running, sprinting, wheeling towards a common goal. Read the plan, find your lane, and dig in.

Lead Image: Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA

5 Reasons to Attend LABash 2022

Hey, YALL! Welcome to the chat. LABash is an annual student-run landscape architecture conference that brings together students and professionals in landscape architecture for a weekend of educational sessions, keynote lectures, social events, networking, and career-building opportunities. This year, for the 51st year of the conference, LABash is being held *in-person* at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during the weekend of March 31- April 2, 2022.

As a “Roaring River” desires to overtop its banks and flood the area with nutrients for growth and nourishment, similarly this conference is a call to flood the field of landscape architecture with OUR ideas for a future of environmental and social equity. By empowering new and unheard voices, we can be the droplets that join to form something larger, invoking real change through the tools we wield as landscape architects and through innovative collaboration with our allied professions.

Here are 5 reasons why you can’t miss LABash 2022

Reason #1: THE ENERGY

We sincerely thank the students of Cornell for planning the last two years of the conference, pivoting with the world’s challenges, and bringing us a wonderful virtual experience during “unprecedented times”. We cannot wait to carry that energy forward as we reconnect in person—Landscape Architects can party!! And boy, do we have some lost time to make up for. 


This year, we will welcome five professionals as keynote speakers in addition to dozens of other professionals, emerging and experienced! Throughout the pandemic, these are some of the voices that kept us inspired via Instagram, podcasts, New York Times articles, and Zoom lectures. Representing academia, private practice, and the nonprofit world, we know that these game changers will leave you feeling inspired!


Known for its jazz music, Mardi Gras traditions, and delicious Cajun food, this is the reason you’ve been waiting for to travel down the Mississippi River! Located in the heart of walkable Downtown Baton Rouge, The Hilton Conference Center will offer discounted lodging ($139/ night) and the convenience of being located where most of the events will take place. The conference center is located along the Mississippi riverfront, providing exciting nightlife and historic landmarks. Come early to explore the Capital Gardens and stay late to walk beneath the mystical oak trees that cover Louisiana State University’s campus.

Reason #4: THE THEME

Our theme the “Roaring River” not only highlights our professions’ impact on major waterways but aims to show students the power we have in shaping the future of our profession. Throughout the weekend, professionals will highlight water issues that impact us all, looking to Louisiana in specific cases to how they have made strides to deal with the fastest eroding coastal land in the country.


Welcoming a new app, WHOVA, will make communication at the conference easier than ever. Following registration, you will be sent a link to create a profile where you can ask questions, view the schedule, coordinate ride sharing, and communicate with hiring professionals. Let’s get the conversation started! 

So, in short, come to LABash. We promise you won’t regret it. Register at We can’t wait to see you there. ASLA Student Members will be eligible to register at the early bird rate of $135 through March 15. We are thrilled to kick off this new partnership!


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