Posts by clarencelacy

Downtown Savannah. All photos by Clarence Lacy

I’ve been feeling a tinge of excitement building thinking about my impending return home to the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia will always have a special place in my heart, specifically Hampton and its location on the Peninsula. The Bay is home to some of the richest ecologies, including my favorite, the estuarine/salt marsh.

During a trip to Savannah and Tybee Island, I observed this ecosystem up close in a different context. While attending Landscape Architecture School I began to understand the importance of this ecosystem and the role it plays in our lives as coastal residents. Armed with my hipster camera and some old found film, I was ready to explore a new territory.

Panorama of Tybee Island.

My adventure begins amongst the enchanting oak woodlands. These woods feel and smell like something straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Spanish moss covered live oaks shade a flood of palmettos, creating a varied texture unique to southern live oak forests. Wandering through these woodlands, each tree feels like an ancient spiritual guardian welcoming you into the equally divine salt marsh.

Skidaway Island State Park.

Leaving the woodland, solid ground gives way to a reedy edge. The oak woodland smell is quickly exchanged for an overwhelmingly familiar smell reminiscent of my childhood on the Chesapeake Bay. Those early days were spent visiting the wharf to buy a bushel of crab, where I would also stop to watch swarms of gulls perched or gliding mid-flight overhead over the piers. Many boats are docked here – a true show of Savannah’s boat culture. From this edge, my journey begins upon the water.


Our boat weave in and out of small tributaries that wind around the subtle topography of soft ground. A new understanding of the eco-diversity and local nuance of this landscape revealed itself through its broad visual monotony. A vigorous smell of salt water intermingles with a subtle, yet captivating smell of decomposition, accompanied by the surround sound symphony of life teeming within this ecosystem.


A combination of childhood nostalgia, love of seafood, and my education brought me to a truly spiritual nexus – a discovery of something unfamiliar, yet familiar. This moment solidifies my love for this ecosystem.


Looking back at my photos, the place feels ghostly and magnificent, yet also tinged with a spirit of the sentimental past. To this day, this trip holds great importance to me. The visit taught me that a true understanding and appreciation of an ecology requires more than academic research, but also a firsthand experience within it.

Santa Monica – All photos by Clarence Lacy, except where noted.

The warm weather lately may say otherwise, but summer is over and it’s officially autumn here in Los Angeles.

I knew the day would eventually arrive, but I kept convincing myself, “just one more day”. Thankfully, California is blessed with a climate that allows us to enjoy its coast almost any time of the year. The coastline of California offers varied and diverse experiences, climate, water temperatures, alongside terrestrial and aquatic life to explore. Over the three years I’ve lived in the Golden State (I can’t believe I’ve already been here this long!), I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy many sections along the coast, exploring all that California has to offer.

Sea Ranch – Photos by Gregory Han

My coastal journal begins with one of my favourite places along the coast: Sea Ranch. Located just over 100 miles north of San Francisco, right off the Pacific Coast Highway, Sea Ranch is a small community of full-time and part-time residents located in a carefully planned and protected development. The coastline here is a mixture of cliffs and sandy beaches, where the frigid waters are still wild, offering a poetic and inspiring place for writers, artists, and anyone drawn to the ocean. The cliffs are covered in ice plants and dwarf small sandy coves, with numerous tide pools teeming with life to explore.

Closer to San Francisco in Marin County, Muir Beach hosts a small protected beach nestled in a valley that ends at the Pacific Ocean. Muir Beach, a cove, is protected from the turbulent Pacific Ocean, an unusually calm region of Northern California coastline. The wild, cold waters of the Pacific can be seen crashing on rock formations just offshore, an especially golden hued view just as the sun begins its descent.

Continuing down the coast further south of San Francisco, the shores continue to display similar terrain with more small coves. But the shape of the coastline begins to envelope outward, with bays of tamer and warmer water. While visiting Pigeon Point I spied various Dudleya, grasses, and native shrubs dotting the green hills – a scenic backdrop of both native and invasive plants that make up the California coast ecology.

Dudlyea

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Green Hills at Pigeon Point Bluffs

As I ventured further down to the reaches of Southern California, I noticed the beaches becoming larger. Santa Monica, Hermosa and Laguna Beach are some of my favorites.

Santa Monica

Each of these stretches of shoreline offer a slightly different feel, but nonetheless, beach goers, surfers, and visiting landscape architects alike can appreciate their distinct and unique beauty.

Hermosa Beach (top), Manhattan Beach (bottom); Photos by Matthew Taylor

As I made my way down to the most southern end of the state to San Diego, a a mix of expansive beaches and cliffs welcomed  the end of my journey down the California coastline. La Jolla Cove is a perfect spot to catch a napping sea lion or a group of noisy cormorants. These cliffs seem to fold right into the sea, creating scenic beaches and bays.

La Jolla sea lion, cormorant, and seagull

Mission Beach

I love exploring the coast. Throughout my journey I recognized the California coastline presents a great opportunity to enjoy the change of the seasons, while also offering an opportunity to reap some of the awesome health benefits related to spending time outdoors and along ocean waters. Summer may have officially be over, but I wholly recommend spending this weekend or the next exploring a new beach. There’s always something surprising to discover that makes our part of the coast uniquely Californian.

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A landscape is an experience.

Traveling through any space is an invitation to reflect and learn more about an environment – and in turn, about your city and yourself. When a landscape offers a place for reflection and incorporates formal educational programming, the space additionally becomes a learning space. An active education program can take the form of demonstration gardens, inter-operative signage, interactive features, etc.

Photos: AHBE

A series of gardens and courts at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools was designed by AHBE – a procession of passive spaces inviting reflection – to serve as a stage in memorial, commemorating Kennedy’s legacy to social justice. The school’s 24-acre site is where the Ambassador Hotel once stood, the site of Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, while the park itself inhabits about one third of an acre along the school’s frontage parallel with Wilshire Boulevard.

Although Inspiration Park’s “rooms” include an outdoor classroom space, much of the linear park is designed as a classroom with a series of walls adorned with inspirational quotes from Robert F. Kennedy. These contemplative spaces were developed in coordination with artists May Sun and Richard Wyatt, adding an educational layer to create a truly experiential landscape. Also included in the design is a restored pylon from the original hotel and palm grove.

The sum the space provides a beautiful and much needed open space along Wilshire, giving the community a contemplative space inspired by the life, legacy, and words of Robert F. Kennedy.

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: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)/Frédéric BISSON

I’ve long been fascinated about how the physical form of a city shapes our urban experience. Not only did I study urban planning, but I’ve played countless hours of SimCity, and built the best Lego cities known to humankind! But in all seriousness, my interest in the interactions between people and features within an urban environment affecting perceptions truly began while studying landscape architecture at the University of Toronto. I’ve written about this time and topic before, but skipped the most fun part: détournement!

Détournement is a technique developed by the Letterist International in the 1950’s. Originating from the French word meaning, “hijacking, rerouting”, détournement became a tool of avant garde social revolutionaries known as the Situationist International. They would take familiar printed images, objects, and pieces of art and augment/change them to alter their meaning. Imagery or a mainstream political concept were subversively reinterpreted for their political purposes, all the while maintaining a general familiarity.

The Situationists consider this not an art form, but an act of expression. Detoured images would reuse preexisting artistic elements in a new enablement, an integration of past or present productions into a superior milieu.

All of that is to say, Situationists set out to add seemingly disparate elements to purposefully create something altogether new. The key to a successful détournement was retaining the recognizable visual elements of the original source for the masses, while altering its meaning.

Photo: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)/Jonathan McIntosh

Détournement became an inspiration during the period I worked on my thesis. The concept and practice opened possibilities in relation to my very own design process. My thesis site of the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto became my own testing ground for détournement. I set out to change the idea of the automobile expressway by simply adding and repurposing its pieces. I asked myself, “How can I combine high volume public transportation, high volume automobile traffic, bicycles, pedestrians, a main street type urbanism, and public open space all on this mega-infrastructure?” Well, it certainly wasn’t easy!

Image: Clarence Lacy

Tapping my own imagination, I began rough collaging, and incorporating the philosophical ideals of the Situationist to attempt to detourn the commute.

Image: Clarence Lacy

My project became a jumble of staged interventions, an attempt to retain the piers of the distressed freeway while creating a new surrounding steel structure to support the collage-like urbanism. Inspired by Constant’s, “New Urbanism”, I identified the commute as the easiest point to intervene in an individual’s everyday life. This would increase the chance for situations – chance encounters – along the way. Eliminating the banality of the everyday commute by forcing these disparate uses to coexist alters the way landscape architects and city planners interpret urbanity, planning, and design. In this way détournement becomes a catalyst for an entirely new type of urbanism.

Image: Clarence Lacy

Inspiration can be found anywhere. Landscape architecture merges many mediums and countless studies: art, botany, sociology, philosophy, music, mathematics, psychology, and anything else you can possibly think of. We operate within a nexus of nature, man, and intellect. Ideas outside of our immediate field like détournement can further expand our toolset.  Never limit yourself and use your interest and background to detourn the current landscape design milieu.

All photos by Clarence Lacy

When I moved to Southern California, I arrived with an understanding of some of the challenges related to landscape design in a semi-arid and arid climate. Prior to my relocation, I had experiences with turf renovation projects and low water landscape projects in the California Central Valley, another region facing similar water scarcity issues as Southern California. With these projects, I became fascinated with the desert and desert plants, specifically the harsh environments that host unique ecosystems of flora and fauna, life easily missed if one doesn’t recognize their subtleties underfoot.

My fascination with the desert has inspired me to make a list of arid destinations in Southern California, all with the purpose of documenting one of my favorite ecologies. On that list is the Salton Sea, a curious large body of water with an interesting past and present hydrology (a curiosity shared by others here at AHBE).

The Salton Sea is a 343 square mile saline lake located in the Coachella Valley. Inflows include the Alamo River, New River, and Whitewater. The wild part is? There are no outflows.

The lake is actually a historically dry bed that only filled after a catastrophic canal flooding and overtopping after a late storm. The storm caused unprecedented peak flows from the Colorado River into the lake bed, forming what we know as the Salton Sea in 1905. This landscape is another great example of nature’s adaptability after human intervention.

Over time the Salton Sea has become a stopover for migrating birds. Various small wildlife can be found taking advantage of the landscaped spaces and the created water body.

While a new ecology has existed since the lake’s unforeseen creation, the lake is continually shrinking with every passing year due to surface evaporation and decreased inlet flows related to drought and lower volumes of irrigation runoff. Salinity and boron concentrations continue to increase, decreasing the chances of a habitable environment for the various aquatic plants and animals that currently call the Salton Sea home.

The Salton Sea – once a popular freshwater lake used for recreation – has continuously become more and more polluted, its increasing salinity unideal for most recreation. Eutrophication and alageblooms from concentrated runoff have caused fish populations to decline among all introduced stock fish, with only the Mozambique Tilapia, Oreochromis mossambicus, eking out an existence. Dead fish litter the shores of the lake, the results of fish kills, their life cycle, and the fact there are no outlets from the lake.

As the lake shrinks in size, the landscape will begin to take another form. The dry lake basin and its salt deposits will become an ever-changing dynamic landscape. The birds that have used the space along their migration paths will (have to) find a new place to stop. Fish will continue to scatter the shores, and the place will take on a new ecological form.

What was a heavy-handed anthropologic destruction of a natural ecology became something new. How will nature’s resilience continue to adapt to these changing conditions? Is this a temporal landscape, nature’s way of healing a wound. Or is the Salton Sea just another example of a failing ecology?

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