From urban farming to forest bathing, there has been a growing desire to connect with the natural world. In an effort to bring nature to urban settings, some landscape architects are turning away from conventional horticultural practices, where plants are organized in orderly rows and treated as separate, distinct clumps, in favor of a freer aesthetic that reflects the wildness of nature and is attuned to ecology. During her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX, Jennifer Orr, a founding principal of Studio Balcones, discussed the importance of designing “wild” landscapes in the public realm to help restore ecological diversity in urban settings. Orr advocates for crafting landscapes that work with nature instead of trying to control it. This plant-driven approach for public landscapes aims to reconnect people with larger natural systems.
To achieve the performance goals of today, plants must do a whole lot more than just be ornamental. They must provide wildlife habitat and food, filter stormwater runoff, support biodiversity, enrich soils, cleanse air, reduce the heat island effect, and improve mental health WHILE making spaces more beautiful. Achieving these broader ecological goals requires an understanding of how plants fit together. Naturalistic design takes cues from nature, organizing plants the way nature does, in richly layered, diverse communities. Plants are fit together in ecological combinations and arranged in an intermingled style, bleeding into each other. This plant-rich design approach yields multi-purpose, beautiful landscapes that support biodiversity.
Orr is not the only landscape architect calling for a revolution in planting design. The naturalistic movement originated in the Netherlands over 30 years ago, with famous garden designer Piet Oudolf at the forefront of the movement. More recently, projects like the High Line in New York City and Chicago’s Laurie Garden (both designed in collaboration with Piet Oudolf) have brought this type of planting aesthetic to urban environments, launching the public awareness and popularity of naturalistic planting design. Intended to be ever-changing, dynamic, and emotion-laden landscapes, these places make us reconsider the role of landscapes in public spaces.
As described by Tony Spencer in an article on his blog, The New Perennialist, naturalistic plantings are composed of a series of interwoven plant layers together forming a community, abstracting the patterns and relationships found in nature. He writes: “Particular attention is paid to how each plant grows from the roots on down—whether it clumps or runs, and how well it responds to stress and competition. Every detail of a given plant’s habit provides a clue into how well it plays with others and what ecological niches it can fill”.
Mastering this art requires a deep horticultural knowledge and an understanding of the intricate relationships between plants. Fortunately, as popularity grows, so too have resources and publications to master this design aesthetic, including Nigel Dunnett’s Naturalistic Planting Design: The Essential Guide (2019), Claudia West and Thomas Rainer’s book Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (2016), and Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes (2016) by Margie Ruddick.
So, how can we actualize the power of plants to more effectively drive ecological function in our towns and cities? In urban environments, where space is at a premium, Orr suggests “plant stuffing”, or planting as many plants in as many spaces as possible, to underscore the importance of plant layering and variety.
This type of “wild” planting design is often perceived as messy or formless, leading to concerns over maintenance. Orr asserts that we should embrace the messiness of nature, while also understanding that there is a right balance to strike in naturalistic planting design. Designs should interpret nature, but also be legible. To achieve this balance, selecting the right plants – plants that are adapted to the soil and climate of a specific site – is key. If done correctly, this planting approach actually requires less labor over time, avoiding the typical maintenance burdens of watering, mulching, spraying, and pruning.
Orr encourages designers to experiment with the naturalistic planting style, see what examples of best practices are out there, and discover the beauty of gardening in a naturalistic style. By harnessing the power of plants, we as landscape architects are able to create resilient, memorable, and vibrant landscapes.
Spending time outside not only makes us feel healthier, it also impacts our long-term wellbeing. Studies have shown that people with high exposure to green spaces yield significant physical and mental health benefits. Yet, most of us do not prioritize outdoor activity in our daily lives. According to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors, leaving very little time for outdoor activity each day. To promote human wellbeing, we need to alter our daily routine to accommodate outdoor activity. In her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Cynthia Dehlavi, Senior Research and Design Associate at OJB Landscape Architecture, shared how landscape architects can use design to influence human habits and increase people’s daily exposure to green space.
During her presentation, Dehlavi walked participants through a meditative experience to demonstrate the effects that our surroundings can have on our bodies. Research has shown that an indoor, sedentary lifestyle impacts your mood, causes fatigue, disrupts your sleep cycle, and even increases your chance of catching an infection. This has a tremendous effect on our bodies including eye strain from staring at a screen, back pain from a hunched seating posture, and lung disease from poor air quality. Conversely, spending time outdoors provides measurable health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving concentration, and strengthening your immunity. Dehlavi recognized that landscapes can fulfill many of our bodies’ needs. Motivated by a desire to help others receive the restorative health benefits nature provides, Dehlavi began to consider how she as a landscape architect can use design to influence individuals to make positive changes to their daily routine and pursue a healthier lifestyle. Here are a few ways Dahlavi and her team at OJB are using design to shift human behavior and promote wellbeing:
More than 85% of workers drive to the office every day. For many of us, this daily commute feels like a chore, but it could be an untapped opportunity to fit outdoor time into your day. Changing your mode of transportation from vehicle to foot or bicycle can reap huge health benefits. Not only is your physical health improved, studies have also shown evidence that productivity and positivity are increased when people change their behavior to active commuting. To promote an active commute, landscape architects are working with cities and towns to implement more pedestrian and cyclist friendly practices, such as dedicated paths or protected bike lanes and bicycle rentals.
Since the average person spends 12+ hours a day sitting – i.e. at their desk, behind the wheel, or in front of the TV screen – taking breaks is essential. However, one study has shown that only one in three workers actually step away from their desk to take lunch. While skipping your lunch break may seem beneficial to completing a deadline, it actually reduces your productivity and deteriorates your mental state. Without taking adequate breaks, overall work performance begins to suffer. While finding time for a break can be challenging, it has shown to increase productivity, improve mental well-being, boost creativity, and encourage healthy habits such as a healthy lunch, exercise, or meditation. To encourage movement throughout the day, landscape architects are teaming with office building developers to provide both active and passive outdoor amenity spaces including walking trails, picnic benches, and gardens.
While the benefits of being outside are well-established, 65% of employees say that their work is the reason that they don’t get outside as much as they would like. Studies have shown that employees with a view of nature perceive lower levels of job stress and higher levels of job satisfaction. To capitalize on these benefits, employers are starting to integrate the outdoors into the workday. Companies are re-imagining their office space to bring the outdoors in, opting for natural light, fresh air, and indoor plants or natural building materials. In addition, with remote work technologies, it’s easier than ever to take your work outside or hold outdoor meetings. Landscape architects are working with clients to provide outdoor workstations.
While Dehlavi is motivated by the desire to improve wellbeing, she also acknowledges that encouraging an increase in people’s daily outdoor activity will also benefit the profession of landscape architecture. She states: “If we change the culture from only being outside 7% of the day to 20% or more, then there is more demand for high-quality landscapes.” By altering people’s daily routine, we can increase the need and demand for better outdoor living, working, and relaxing spaces. Dehlavi encourages landscape architects to be better advocates of human wellbeing, designing spaces that allow for a shift in human behavior and increase daily exposure to green space.
The work of landscape architects work involves complex decisions and responsibilities — detailing and designing projects, observing construction, achieving owner satisfaction, and ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Landscape architects are subject to professional liability as a direct result of the higher expectations placed on us due to our specialized education and training. When a project doesn’t go according to plan, owners can file lawsuits against the design firm. Risk are inherent in the landscape architecture profession, but we rarely talk about it. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX, Marissa McKinney, Principal at Austin-based landscape architecture firm Coleman & Associates, discussed the many ways in which design professionals expose themselves to legal liability and how design firms can mitigate risk.
Risk management should begin before a contract is even signed. To reduce unforeseen problems, it is important to identify potential risks early on, and analyze the risk’s potential impact and its likelihood of occurring. Before taking on a new project type or working with a new client, as yourself “is it worth the risk?”. By planning a risk response and implementing it, you avoid, minimize, and/or accept the risk.
Professional liability claims are often a result of a failure to manage expectations. A well-written contract is the first step to reduce liability, and is the best way to set both parties’ expectations on a project. It sets a clear understanding between the client and designer of the landscape architect’s scope of work, and the quality and timing of the final product. A contract allows both parties to clearly document their mutual understanding for project requirements and obligations, which should reduce the likelihood of a later dispute. Poorly written contracts and ambiguous language can expose firms to unintended risks. While standard contract forms, such as those provided by ASLA, are a useful first step, getting legal review of standard contracts is another important assurance.
When unexpected schedule delays or cost overruns occur, communication to the client is key. Lack of communication may result in a big – and often costly – surprise later for the client. Make sure that the contract details all the terms of your work – including deliverables, deadlines, and pay rates – so both parties have everything in writing. If a project’s scope changes or you take on more responsibilities, it’s a good idea to modify and re-sign the contract so that these changes are spelled out and can be covered should something go awry. Regularly check in with the client throughout the project so that you can manage expectations and stay aware of new or shifting priorities. Be proactive by taking and distributing comprehensive meeting notes and getting direction in writing to prevent disputes later on.
Although landscape architects strive for perfection in their work, errors happen. Most mistakes are caused by the complexity of the design coupled with human limitations – i.e. a code requirement might be over-looked or dimension miscalculated. By using the standard of care clause, professionals can protect themselves from liability if the issue of negligence should arise. Under this standard, the design professional is held to use the same degree of care as is ordinarily practices by other reasonably competent landscape architects. The standard of care sets realistic expectations; however, it is typically the responsibility of the landscape architect to perform quality control of their drawings, ensure drawings are properly coordinated between consultants, and review bidding documents for compliance with client instructions, regulatory code, and other requirements. However, landscape architects routinely do not guarantee construction outcomes because they are not capable of making those guarantees come true.
Much of the risk occurs during construction. A landscape architect’s approach to construction administration can greatly affect risk exposure and its outcomes. Contractors are your first line of dense in flagging potential errors. Encourage them to ask about suspected errors and omissions and respond quickly to their requests to set a pace for a constructive dialogue in the future. The landscape architect should also conduct site visits to ensure construction quality. Should potentially costly decisions need to be made, reduce liability by allowing the client to make those hard decisions. Unfortunately, the design firm is not always contracted to perform construction observation services, or an exhausted fee limits their ability to control liabilities. For this reason, clear expectations and an understanding of responsibility are again vital.
Depending on the contract language, the landscape architecture practice can be held liable for the negligence of contractors or sub-consultants working on a project. Even if you’ve detailed and specified suitable materials, there is no guarantee that the construction project manager will follow your instructions or that you will be made aware of substitutions. If there are flaws in the finished product due to construction mistakes, the owner could sue the landscape architect for negligence and hold them liable for damages. Similarly, McKinney shares an example of a practitioner who included the structural engineer’s mark-ups of a retaining wall within their landscape architecture drawings. When the wall failed, the client held the landscape architect responsible despite the mistake being caused by the sub-consultant. It is important that you avoid accepting responsibility for other people’s negligent acts. One way to do so is through the use of an indemnity clause. Indemnity is an agreement to assume a specific liability in the event of a loss, shifting risk from one party to another.
Today, landscape architecture projects are expected to mitigate climate change and respond to a host of constantly evolving future variables. As projects become more complicated and require specialized expertise to achieve desired environmental outcomes, the risk landscape architects face is heightened. Similarly, complicated projects require more customized details and increase liability. Practitioners should expect proper compensation for taking on such risks, while also protecting themselves from undue liability by ensuring they are up-to-date on latest practices, curating a sub-consultant team of knowledgeable experts, and managing client expectations.
To protect against expensive lawsuits, most landscape architecture and design businesses carry professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions insurance. These policies protect the firm and its employees from lawsuits caused by poor communication, changing project requirements, negligent acts, errors or omissions in the performance of a service, and budget overruns. Professional liability insurance provides coverage for legal costs to defend against a claim. Additionally, insurers offer ongoing risk management services to insured firms, including legal review of standard contracts, and continuing education on ways to reduce or avoid unnecessary liability.
Proper risk management strengthens client confidence, increase profitability, and ensures a high quality of services rendered. We must take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and mitigate risk. During her presentation, McKinney stated that the profession as a whole does not put enough emphasis on professional practice, and urged professionals to talk openly about their own experiences, continually elevating the risk management standards not only of their own practice, but of the professional as a whole. Do you have risk management advice based on issues you’ve run into? Share it in the comments section below!
The research is clear: Spending time outdoors, especially in green, natural settings, is good for our health. A growing body of research is demonstrating the positive measurable effects spending time in nature has on our well-being – from reducing mental distress, increasing physical activity, and extending our life span. In fact, spending time outside is so vital that doctors around the world have begun prescribing time in nature as a way of improving their patients’ health. Unfortunately, natural settings are not readily accessible to everyone, and the quality of our outdoor environments are not always conducive to human well-being. Understanding that how we shape our environment impacts our health, Stephen Cook, Principal at the Planning and Landscape Architecture firm Hitchcock Design Group, is striving to improve human health through the design of the built environment. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Cook shared specific project examples of the health benefits landscape architecture projects can provide, and the important role designers play in the improvement of human health.
Despite the many benefits nature provides for human health and well-being, we spend very little time each day outdoors. The average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors, according to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, due to the poor quality of our outdoor environments, the time we do spend outdoors may actually be harmful to our health – especially in urban environments where pollution, noise, over-stimulation, and other city-stressors are high. A shortage of green spaces and a technology-centric culture has further disconnected us from nature. What design strategies can be deployed to create more healthy outdoor environments, and how can we captivate an audience when they are outdoors – taking them away from their screen to gain the full benefits of their time in nature?
Healthy, quality outdoor spaces encourage social connectedness, safety, physical activity, and sensory stimulation. Well-lit, tree-lined sidewalks enable safe and convenient physical activity, while well-designed parks and plazas create inviting spaces for social gatherings or quiet relief. Through his career as a landscape architect, Cook has worked on a variety of projects that promote wellness through sensory integration, connectivity to nature, and physical engagement. His work spans from therapeutic gardens at healthcare facilities, to community playgrounds that interweave play and education.
The Lynn and Jerry Flaherty Family Respite Garden at the Children’s Hospital of Illinois was designed as a “journey through the woods”, bringing the serenity of nature to the rooftop garden. Featuring natural materials and lush plantings, shade structures the mimic the canopy of a forest, and a small water feature, the space provides a place of respite for staff and families while offering patients attractive views from their rooms. Bison’s Bluff, a playground in Schaumburg, Illinois, extends learning to the outdoors, using play to educate children of all ages about nature. The nature-based playscape immerses children in an ecosystem that includes native grasses, woodland trees, a stream and a pond. As the children explore these ecosystems, they are able to relieve stress, develop cognitive skills, and grow their appreciation for nature.
These examples Cook shares show that thoughtfully designed outdoor spaces can enhance the positive health benefits provided by being outdoors, renewing us both physically and mentally. So, take a walk outside, disconnect from technology, and breathe in the benefits of being outdoors. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
As the Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture celebrates the completion of its 15th year at the University of Texas at Austin, Director Hope Hasbrouck reflects on the radical change the program has experienced since its establishment. This transformation, Hasbrouck explains, is in response to the changing context of landscape architectural design. As perspectives within the profession shift to re-orient design goals from program to performance, research and academia topics have expanded to explore the dynamics of urban systems, historical and theoretical basis for design approach, and the complexities of multidisciplinary projects. During her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX, Hasbrouck shared five words she is seeing in academia that she believes will guide the next practices of the profession of landscape architecture.
Sustainability and resiliency are words that have become fixed in the lexicon of landscape architecture as communities strive to become better able to recover from disruptive natural events. Allan Shearer, Associate Dean for Research and Technology in the School of Architecture, is taking this concept one step further and researching how cities can not only be resilient but learn and improve from disruptions, effectively improving a cities capacity for change over time. The antonym of “fragile”, the term “antifragile” characterizes entities that gain from disturbance. By testing for antifragility in dense urban areas, we can understand the survivability of systems, including urban systems, under conditions of dynamic stress and create a framework for development that manages these presently unknown sources of stress. Shearer’s research centers on how individuals, communities, and societies create scenarios of the future and how these descriptions of possible tomorrows are used to inform present day decisions.
Landscape architecture is one of the most hybridic, complex, and ambiguous forms of design. It is also thus one of the most synthetic of design practices, simultaneously bringing together multiple disciplines in one work. A cross between the natural and built environment, landscape architecture balances art and science to weave together people, buildings, and site. Associate Professor Mirka Benes studies this concept with her graduate design students during her “Hybridity in Landscape/Architecture” course. During this course, students map the extremely hybridic fields pertaining to design today, from concepts of merging indoors and outdoors, re-conceptualizing threshold and boundary at project and at urban scale, dealing with the ambiguities of ground, to the ancient and very modern notions of changing meanings when materials, designs, and ornament are recycled. In addition to her teachings, Benes is also researching hybridity in preparation for her upcoming book that maps hybridity in landscape architecture, from Roman antiquity to today.
Maggie Hansen is an Associate Professor whose work investigates how “care taking” serves to maintain and build community. Theories of “care-work” come from feminist political science, where an ethic of care is described as essential to democratic citizenship. The human actions that maintain and repair our world, our environment, and ourselves are often overlooked and undervalued, yet these actions are essential to sustaining everyday life. “To care about something, we must first notice it – and landscape architects, as engaged citizens, have an important role in raising consciousness and inspiring action on behalf of our shared environment,” Hasbrouck states. With a background in community-based design, Hansen’s work focuses on re-valuing the significance of human action in sustaining the environment. From a deep engagement process during design to regular maintenance and advocacy on a site’s behalf, these actions of “care” contribute to a project’s long-term success.
From Building Information Modeling software (BIM) to Virtual Reality (VR), the digital toolbox available to landscape architects is continuing to grow. These tools have the capability to 3-D model data including volume, time, cost, systemic performance, and lifecycle maintenance. As practitioners integrate these tools into their workflow, it is critical to understand the best tool to support the desired level of inquiry. Adam Barbe, lecturer and founder of coLAB workshop, and Hope Hasbrouck are exploring the capabilities of the multi-dimensional digital workspace to support meaningful decision making.
Associate Professor and founding Principal of FORGE Landscape Architecture, Phoebe Lickwar is examining the ways in which agriculture have been integrated into landscape design, resituating agriculture as a design process. Lickwar’s research and practice are focused on agricultural landscapes and the integration of regenerative agriculture-based systems in landscape architecture. Lickwar’s work aims to conserve these ecologically and culturally significant landscapes by documenting post-agricultural sites and studying how urbanization has led to a transformation in farmland and rural communities. Her book “Farmscape: The Design of Productive Landscapes” examines the integration of agriculture and landscape architecture through history.
Experimental and forward-thinking, these five words begin to frame the current identity of the Graduate Program in Landscape Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, the evolving priorities of practitioners, and the practices that will guide the future of the profession.
“The future of landscape architecture includes me,” proclaims Katie Coyne, Certified Ecologist and Principal at Asakura Robinson, a planning, urban design, and landscape architecture firm. With a background in both ecology and community planning and sustainable design, Coyne leads the Urban Ecology Studio at Asakura Robinson, working alongside planners and design professionals to incorporate resilient design principles into the firm’s work. While Coyne works alongside landscape architects, she is not a professionally trained landscape architect, so when asked to present on the topic of “Next Practices in Landscape Architecture” for the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX, Coyne considered the economic, cultural, social, and ecological goals that must be balanced for a resilient future and developed the following 10 points to guide the future of the profession.
Coyne’s 10 points are intended to push the profession of landscape architecture into the future, mobilizing individuals to take action towards positive change. Some practitioners are already implementing many of these 10 points, but it will take an intentional effort by the entire design community – and allied professionals – to realize Coyne’s vision of the future.
Cars take up a ton of real estate in America’s cities. From local roads and on-street parking stalls to elevated highways and multi-story parking garages, cities devote 50 to 60 percent of their space to cars. If we could reclaim this valuable land from vehicles, imagine the many ways cities could be transformed. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have the potential to become a major catalyst for urban transformation, providing cities with the opportunity to reclaim their urban public space. As cities prepare for the advent of AVs and other new mobility technologies, Amna Ansari, Architect and Urban Designer at SWA Group, believes that design professionals have an essential role to play. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Ansari explores how we might shape these emerging technologies to ensure that streets are given back to the people – not cars.
Not too long ago, self-driving cars were merely a fantasy, but now it appears that their adoption isn’t too far away. PwC estimates that by 2030, 40% of the mileage driven could be done in autonomous vehicles. With the coming rise of AVs on our city streets, city planners are already projecting the impact this technology will have on cities and communities. Depending on how cities leverage these new technologies, the outcomes could be beneficial to ease congestion and reduce pollution or could further exacerbate congestion and sprawl. To ensure that the changes will enhance instead of hinder the urban experience, cities need to set the right policies in place.
Streets designed for AVs have the potential to be safer, quieter, narrower and more efficient – allowing room for other uses to fill in. These auto-centric city spaces previously used for parked vehicles or wide lanes can be re-purposed to provide lush tree plantings and parklets, gracious sidewalks and bike lanes, and additional public transportation options. Due to reduced parking needs, land currently used for surface and garage parking can be reclaimed for parks, housing, community space, or other much needed amenities. Some cities are already considering ways to free up land for development, including boosting mass transit and cutting down on excessive parking requirements.
“As designers, let’s guide these emerging techs to take shape based on what we value first – cities, and how we can improve, maintain and protect our habitats.” – Amna Ansari
Before long, AVs will have a strong presence in our public realm. If leveraged properly, these technologies will create new and beneficial opportunities for the urban environment. In order to shape the future we want to see, it is vital that design professionals are involved in the discussion. As cities begin to think about how to incorporate AVs into future planning, Ansari reminds us that we should ensure public space is given back to the community.
What brought you to your profession of landscape architecture? Who encouraged you along your career path? Who has helped you succeed and attain your professional goals? These are among the questions landscape architect Shaney Clemmons, Founder and Principal of Shademaker Studio, considered as she prepared for her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX. When asked to present on the topic of “Next Practices in Landscape Architecture”, Clemmons reflected on those people who played a key role in her professional life and used her presentation as an opportunity to share her belief that fostering, appreciating, and maintaining these connections are key to the future of the profession.
Coupling two sociology theories together, six degrees of separation (the theory that any person can be connected to any other person through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries) and the ripple effect (a spreading and usually unintentional effect or influence), Clemmons crafted her own theory: 8 Degrees of Connection. This notion is based on her belief that at least 8 people have played a key role in each of our career paths and brought us to where we are today. During her presentation, Clemmons shared her 8 influencers, how their actions inadvertently affected her career decisions, and how practicing 8 degrees of connection can strengthen the community of landscape architecture.
“It is my belief that the next practices of landscape architecture are rooted in connection, and the simple action that you take tonight can have a ripple effect on our tomorrow.”
What brought you to your profession of landscape architecture? For Clemmons, it was Gene Gibson – extension agent for 4-H at University of Idaho – who introduced her to the term “landscape architect”. Many of my peers came across the profession in college, either by accident or through the advice of faculty advisor. I first learned of the career from a friend whose father owns a residential design-build firm. Whatever brought you to the profession, this introduction to the field is your first influencer. From there, she traced her time at University of Idaho – a campus designed by the Olmsted Brothers – where she learned about Frederick Law Olmsted and her passion for the profession was solidified.
Who encouraged you along your career path? Following graduation, Clemmons entered into her first job at a design firm – an opportunity she received through a connection with a fellow UIdaho alumnae. This connection opened the door to 17 years of practicing landscape architecture in Seattle. Through the ups and downs of her career, the community of landscape architecture was a driving force that kept her moving forward. She found additional encouragement from online resources, such as the Build Blog (or hey, Land8!), where the design community gathers to share information and elevate the profession. This belief that transparency makes everyone stronger led Clemmons to strive for transparency as she developed her own practice 2 years ago.
Who has helped you succeed and attain your professional goals? As a sole practitioner, much of Clemmons’ work involves collaborating – with architects, builders, clients, and even other landscape architects. Clemmons attributes these relationships to her success. Clemmons’ exercise reinforces the value of cultivating new relationships and appreciating existing ones. Whether through repeat clients or forming new partnerships, connectivity proved to be critical in Clemmons’ professional success.
This theory Clemmons created, 8 Degrees of Connection, highlights the power each of us has and reminds us that even the smallest action that may seem inconsequential to you can have a huge impact on somebody else.So, as we look to the future of landscape architecture, reflect on those who have influenced you, and consider how your actions can influence others. These connections will hopefully lead to a larger, more connected, and more influential community of landscape architects.
At the annual LAF Innovation + Leadership Symposium in Washington, DC, seven emergent voices in landscape architecture shared their ideas that will drive the future of the profession. These seven voices were the 2018-2019 cohort of the LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. Each of the fellowship recipients engaged in a yearlong journey to develop their leadership capacity and work on ideas that have the potential to create positive and profound change in the profession, the environment, and humanity.
LAF established the Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership in 2016 to “foster transformational leadership capacity and support innovations to advance the field of landscape architecture”. This $25,000 fellowship is an opportunity for professionals to dedicate 12 weeks of time over the course of one year to a proposed project that has the potential to bring positive change and expand the discipline’s impact. The funds provide working professionals at any stage of their career with the ability to think deeply, reflect, research, explore, create, test, and develop their ideas into action. In addition to the funds, the LAF Fellows receive project support through facilitated discussions, critiques, mentorship, and explorations of transformational leadership that occur during three 3-day residencies in Washington, DC.
As the culmination of the yearlong fellowship, the seven 2018-2019 fellowship recipients presented their work to a sold-out audience at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. This powerful event showcases leading-edge thinking and achievements in landscape architecture and emphasizes how the profession is uniquely poised to address a breadth of pressing issues. The recipients’ projects tackled the public housing crisis, community engagement through youth empowerment, immersive technologies, landscape interpretation and belonging, legislative frameworks for resilient urban waterfronts, remediating coal ash ponds, and climate-positive design.
Titled “Between Neighbors”, Karl Krause’s research analyzed current conditions of public housing in the U.S., and the progress yet to be made to ensure these communities meet the needs of their residents. While we rebuild the deteriorating 50s-era public housing, we have the opportunity to solve long-standing problems of social isolation and create a new vision for public housing. However, we must first understand what effect this transformation will have on residents. By visiting 10 communities across the U.S and interviewing residents whose communities have gone through a recent transformation, Karl’s work examines the reduced feeling of camaraderie often found in these redeveloped communities and the valuable role landscape plays in providing common ground for new neighbors.
Daví de la Cruz developed a neighborhood design center for youth in “Community-based Storytelling: Los Angeles’ Neighborhood Design” to engage in the transformative power of storytelling. Daví developed 7 workshops to active youth leadership in his hometown of Pueblo del Río, a housing project in South Central, LA. Using tools such as creative writing, video production, and photography, the youth participants were invited to share their personal stories and experiences of their neighborhood, preparing them to be effective and engaged community leaders. The worships facilitated peer-to-peer mentorship and connected youth to tools and design strategies that can be utilized to communicate their ideas to shape their community.
In his research, “Immersive Technology and Landscape Architecture”, Andrew Sargeant emphasized how immersive technologies can be better utilized to give landscape architects a competitive edge in project communication. Andrew noted that much of what makes a landscape unique– the feelings, smells, and sounds of the natural environment – are not being communicated in our renderings. During his fellowship, Andrew endeavored to discover the latest tools of visualization, specifically augmented and virtual reality, and understand the potential this technology has to transform the profession. Immersive technologies provide a more realistic experience, allowing users to more fully interact with a design. Andrew is working to make these tools available for all to use in the design of and advocacy for public space.
Maisie Hughes produced a web documentary film series in “Belonging: Identity and Landscape Narrative” that seeks to uncover feelings of belonging or exclusion in the landscape. Through in-depth research and interviews, this project documented DC residents from diverse backgrounds and what affected their feeling of belonging in high-profile DC landscapes. Her project demonstrates how a variety of people interpret the same landscapes and provides new insights into the design and programming of public space. Her work is helping to uncover how we can create public spaces that make everyone feel like they belong.
In “Volume for Water: Rethinking Regulatory Frameworks for Urban Coastal Resilience”, Sanjukta Sen studied how effective, or ineffective, regulatory frameworks have been in implementing resiliency strategies for urban waterfront development. As coastal cities grapple with sea level rise and more frequent occurrences of flooding, it is necessary to codify standards for open space in waterfront developments. Sanjukta’s research indicates that despite the creative solutions and proposals that design professionals have developed, the existing regulatory framework does not enable these solutions to have the transformative effect they tout. She urges professionals to partner with City agencies to ensure the mechanisms are in place for public open spaces to effectively serve as both amenity and infrastructure.
Lauren Delbridge explored the future of coal ash ponds in her research, “Rethinking Wastescapes”. Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal, has historically been stored in unlined pits and allowed to seep pollutants into the surrounding environment. Lauren advocates that, as coal ash ponds are forced to close nationally, these wastescapes should be transformed, re-envisioned, and given back to the communities they have damaged for decades. During her fellowship, Lauren collected precedent case studies and documented site visits to several successfully remediated wastescapes in the U.S. and abroad in order to understand existing remediation strategies and chart a path forward for the future of coal ash pond sites.
Pamela Conrad’s research, “Climate Positive Design: Going Beyond Neutral”, rethinks our climate impact as landscape architects. Her work, specifically focused on air pollution, looks at how landscape architects can offset their project’s carbon footprint and create climate positive designs. During her fellowship, Pamela created a carbon calculator, a new tool that helps us understand the carbon footprint of a project and measures how much carbon a project can sequester over time. With a carbon calculator specifically designed for landscape architecture, we can actively set goals for ourselves as a profession to combat climate change.
Encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing, the LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership pushes us to test new ideas and expand our leadership capacity. The topics that these seven fellows have researched show the great variety of challenges the profession is facing and the potential we have to bring about impactful change. These ideas begin to illuminate a path forward for the profession of landscape architecture.
Lead Image: Emma Weiss / Landscape Architecture Foundation
Landscape architects and urban planners are frequently tasked with translating the unique desires of a community into a meaningful public space that seamlessly integrates into the existing community fabric. In order to ensure the long-term success of such a project, sincere and intentional community engagement efforts must be made to understand the community’s needs and incorporate their values. Understanding how to best engage community stakeholders in the design process is critical to ensuring a high level of community investment and pride. During the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Seattle, Tim Slazinik, landscape architect at GGLO Design, discussed how his firm is looking for ways to engage the public in a deeper, more impactful way.
Community engagement strategies take on many different forms, each of which elicit varying degrees of public participation. The extent of community involvement can range from being passively informed of a project’s development, to actively sharing roles and responsibilities in decision-making. Slazinik noted that greater impact comes from intentionally building up a person’s capacity to contribute at higher levels. Often called participatory design, this process provides a platform for community members to be more informed about the design, and invites them to be part of the decision making process. Because they are well informed from project inception, their decisions are based on a deeper understanding of the project, and their feedback is more valuable.
“We want the communities to design with us, allowing the community to build their own vision for the future.” – Tim Slazinik
A collaborative approach to community engagement contributes substantially to the long-term success of the project. Slazinik explained that GGLO is constantly experimenting with different public engagement techniques, as they work to discover the best tools to bring people together in a way that fosters creativity, engages a wide audience, and produces a meaningful end product. During his presentation, Slazinik shared some of the techniques that his team has employed to facilitate the public engagement process and elicit creativity.
The first, dubbed Dynamic Survey, allows community members to provide their input through an interactive online survey. Utilized on the Spaulding Ranch development in Boise, ID, this software gave a wide range of interested parties the ability to provide their feedback at the on-set of the project. After agreeing on a series of different program elements with input from a wide range of interested parties, GGLO created an interactive online project portal where users could actively engage in the layout of the program elements. Elements were scaled to size and users could “drag and drop” the elements on the site to share their preference for how the site should be laid out.
By utilizing an online, interactive survey, the team was able to get input from a larger audience, and draw on local knowledge. The resulting data was mapped out to visually demonstrate the most preferred location for each program element, giving the design team a preliminary layout for site elements and preferred adjacencies. This process resulted in a site plan that represented the unique needs of the community and identified issues and opportunities that may have otherwise been missed by the design team. By engaging the community early in the process, the design team was able to move forward with the preferred concept knowing it would be supported by the community.
The second tool Slazinik discussed, Visual Experience, was utilized on the Seattle Junction Park project in Seattle, WA. During a public meeting, Slazinik and his team used virtual reality to engage the community in an exercise that invited them to imagine how the site could be altered. The design team developed three concepts for the site, but instead of providing just a rendered site plan and relying on character imagery to depict the different concepts, each concept was digitally rendered. This enabled the public to get fully immersed in the nuances of each concept and visualize the scale, material, and character of the space. By digitally rendering the three concepts, stakeholders were able to more fully understand the designs, resulting in more meaningful feedback that would later inform the final iteration of the design.
New and innovative community engagement methods, such as the ones discussed that embrace new technologies, are aiding designers in their quest to better bring the public into conversations on their future. By committing to a high quality community engagement process, the process can uncover ideas that contribute to the success of the project, and empower individuals to take ownership of their public spaces.
At a time when landscape architects are leading the discourse on mitigating climate change, fostering community, and enacting social change, it is peculiar for Rose to center her discussion on beauty. While the art of design is still very central to what we do, the work of landscape architects has evolved beyond the romantic ideals of landscape being solely something to look at. Yet, after listening to her presentation, it becomes clear that the term “beauty” describes much more than just aesthetic appeal or artistic whimsy.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit”. Using this definition, the role of beauty extends beyond appearance and into experiences. Rose asserts that “beauty is about experience and comfort – an attitude that places and people are worth caring for.” Beautiful, well-maintained spaces make people feel important, welcomed, and cherished. A beautiful landscape can address many of the critical issues that impact people’s lives and the environment. In addition to enhancing the lives of individuals, these spaces also strengthen communities, giving a sense of ownership to the community.
To drive her point, Rose shared a few examples from her recent work at Walker Macy.
At Eagle Harbor Waterfront Park, located in Bainbridge Island, WA, Rose and her team were tasked with the re-design of an existing sloping open space adjacent to the waterfront. The team could have proposed a simple path of switchbacks traversing the sloped landscape, but instead saw the opportunity to transform the existing passive park into an experiential corridor connecting residents to the water’s edge. This small decision had large impacts, enabling the design team the ability to create a new public amenity – with sculpted pathways, a rich planting palette and clearly defined gathering spaces with views to the water – out of a space that was previously seen as a pass-through space. By extending the park’s programming beyond the bare minimum circulation required, the team created a beautiful space that provides visitors with a sense of tranquility.
Working with the Portland Parks and Recreation Department, Rose and her team created a Visitors Center for Forest Park, one of the largest urban forests in the country. The project site is heavily disturbed, nestled at the base of a hill and located adjacent to an industrial site. The design team used this location to their advantage, and designed the Visitor’s Center as a laboratory where visitors can experience the forest in a state of transformation. They saw the beauty in this process and used design to share the story of the land, which is being nurtured back to life after years of disruption.
The last project that Rose shared was a waterfront redevelopment in Seattle along Portage Bay. Located in close proximity to University of Washington, the designers considered the needs of their user base and proposed a park with both active recreation and passive moments that allowed for plenty of opportunities to unwind. Further enhancing the sense of place, the design provides both experiential and visual connections to the water and creates a space that encourages both emotional and physical calm. As visitors meander along the path, tactile reminders of the water, such as boardwalk paving and breezy meadow plantings, surround them. The use of these natural materials are not only beautiful visually, but also provide uses with an opportunity to reflect, unplug, and feel closer to nature.
A beautiful space can improve human health and quality of life, providing visitors with the opportunity to relax, connect, and feel valued. So, as we work to tackle ambitious project goals, let’s not forget to perfect the modest ones: creating beautiful places that bring people together.
Anova Furnishings’ Grant Competition is back again this year, offering emerging professionals the opportunity to attend the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture (formerly known as the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO) in San Diego November 15-18, 2019. Centered around a different topic each year, the competition invites participants to submit a short essay and a quick hand sketch, or “napkin sketch”, for the chance to win a $2,000 grant toward conference expenses. A panel of three practicing professionals will select the 13 best responses to be awarded the grant.
This year, entrants are asked to share how contemporary landscape architecture could be used to improve an under-performing space in their community.
Anova created this grant program to help accelerate individuals’ careers in Landscape Architecture. The sketching component is intended to harness a landscape designer’s ability to quickly and effectively communicate their ideas. This year, the hand-drawn sketch is required to be drawn on a napkin, using just one color of ink. This change emphasizes that the napkin sketch is intended to be a quick, loose sketch, not a final marketing deliverable. Paired with the short essay, the napkin sketch is a quick and effective way to communicate your big idea, and can often help explain something much more easily than writing it out would.
So, what do successful sketches look like? I spoke with the competition judges who shared a few of their favorite sketches from previously winning entries, and what made them winners.
Not confident in your hand-drawing skills? Don’t sweat it. Judging will be based not only on the napkin sketch, but also on your written explanation and the overall presentation of the entry materials. With such a great prize available, what’s stopping you from giving it a try?
Through this grant, Anova is not only increasing the diversity of voices at the ASLA Conference, but also providing an opportunity to showcase the profession and its ability to catalyze positive change in the community. For more details regarding eligibility, deadlines, and judging criteria, visit the competition website. Submissions will be accepted from April 29 – May 27, 2019.