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.


Photo: Gary Lai

By the the time I turned sixteen, I knew I was going to be an architect.

It was 1984 and I was in the middle of my final year of drafting class at Lowell High School in San Francisco.  I had a great teacher, Mr Amundson, who encouraged me to submit an entry to the AIA Student competition. It was supposed to be my crowning achievement as a senior.

I worked for months on the competition project – a cabin in Tahoe, California. The solar industry was currently in its infancy, but I decided to design my cabin according to energy efficient theories. The resulting design was a cabin stocked with all of the most current thinking in passive solar design: heat sinks, passive ventilation, and energy conservation solutions.

Building the model was painful and time consuming. Forty blades and four very expensive large sheets of 1/4″ foam core boards later, my first model emerged.

My cabin was designed with an automatic ventilation system that opened its vents and windows around the cabin based on the thermostat. I envisioned a small greenhouse that heated the cabin in the winter. In my youthful overconfidence, I was sure I was going to win.

Alas, it was not to be. I didn’t even place. But I did receive an honorable mention for “Energy Conscious Design”.

In my disappointment, I submitted college applications for Electrical Engineering programs throughout the country instead of architecture. Rejected by all of the engineering schools I applied to, I was accepted as an undecided major at University of California, Davis. It was there I would discover landscape architecture, and as they say, the rest is history.

Almost 35 years later, I finally broke down and decided to throw out the yellowing model representing my youthful hopes and optimism. I had decided to focus my career on sustainability just a few years before, but looking at this poor Tahoe cabin model sitting at the bottom of the garbage can, I was left to wonder what took me so long to come to this conclusion.

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