Summer has come to an end here in Los Angeles. Despite the unabated high temperatures, the days are becoming shorter. Gardeners are already planning the transition from the growing cycle of warm weather into the cooler autumn months in preparation to plant next year’s bounty. Vacation season has come to a close too, with students returning to school. In recognition of this seasonal transition, we’ll be focusing on a Back-to-School theme for September, specifically one from the perspective of the landscape architecture education and profession. We hope you’ll learn something from their lessons.

Photos: Brett Miller

Each year the American Society of Landscape Architects hosts an annual meeting and expo across numerous cities. Each host city showcases the local talents of our profession. But few are aware of a complementary program implemented for each host city known as the ASLA Legacy Project. In partnership with the ACE Mentorship Program, each host city selects a site (usually a park, school yard, or community center), then matches professionals with the community with the goal of providing a design service not normally available to that site.

This year the ASLA Annual Meeting/Expo is being hosted in Los Angeles. I had the opportunity to volunteer for a working session at the Santee Educational Complex, where I was invited to work with the students, and participate in a design charrette hosted at AHBE. The project’s goal is to bring some excitement and greenery to an otherwise gray and hard internal courtyard, currently the school’s primary communal outdoor space.

The process began with summer classes earlier this year. And during these classes, the Legacy Project Team engaged students for their input, inquiring about their views about the program, circulation, and any additional insights about the culture of Santee that could aid in the development of the design. Over several weeks, an updated plan was presented to students, inviting another round of input from the students. The team would reconvene at an office and continue to develop the plan, per student feedback.

Last Friday, I was invited to attend the working session with the students where three different schemes were presented. There were eight tables with students on stools circled around, and at each table a plan was accompanied with some markers and stickers. Students were invited to use the stickers to designate features they liked, while markers were used to cross out program elements they didn’t like. Comments were written in the margins – what to add or enhance. By the end of the session, all three plans were covered in color and stickers.

The next day the team was joined by students from Cal Poly and other local professionals at our office for a morning work session.  Together, we began the decision making process, combining the three schemes and feedback into a single plan, sketched onto trace paper. This plan was then offered to the Cal Poly students to take back to their computers to generate one final plan to present to the Santee students. The final plan proposes creating more shade and seating than is currently available, while also providing a lot more gathering opportunities for both large and small groups. A partnership with a local arts program to paint murals across the new space is also imagined for this site.

Teaming up with local vendors, non-profits, and the ASLA – the Legacy Project has turned out not to be just a hypothetical design exercise, but one that will be fully implemented, and in the process result in our team leaving our fingerprint on the community through design.

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