Posts by Jennifer Salazar

As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

As an avid fan of all things transportation related, including the highly popular High Line in New York City and also our local transportation systems, I particularly remember Cristhian Barajas’, Drosscapes: Railroad Bridges as Community Vantage Points as the most memorable AHBE LAB post this year.

Cristhian’s post is not only an exploration of the history of LA’s train infrastructure, it also investigates and promotes the lines as a potential and prime candidates for re-use as non-vehicular transportation corridors across Los Angeles. Though he notes the challenges designers would likely face in designing for these conditions, I find the possibilities for making these non-vehicular links between communities an inspiring challenge worth undertaking! I would love for AHBE to one day be awarded a rail retrofit project to make Cristhian’s observations a reality.

The original post here: Drosscapes: Railroad Bridges as Community Vantage Points

I’m often asked what the typical day of a landscape architect looks like at AHBE. To properly answer this question, I took some time to go around the office to take some photos that best capture some of the more typical things we do within our profession.

All photos: Jennifer Salazar

We often still like to write or draw by hand, especially – ahem – those of us of a certain age. Our drawings may be sketches of ideas, colored plan views, or simply a list of goals. I have kept some of these examples on the wall near my desk.

We’re also not afraid to sketch out ideas, crinkle them up, only to dig them up later again. Our tool box include drafting tape; it doesn’t have the strong hold of regular tape which allows for easy repositioning, representing the flexibility of idea and execution of our profession. Scales and markers are also typical tools of the landscape architect. The paper we write on is called trace paper. Some of us – again, of a certain age – first learned to call it “bum wad” because it comes in narrow rolls that looked like, well, yes, toilet paper!

A landscape architect’s familiarity with reading maps is integral to every project – from Open Space Master Plans to highly detailed construction plans. We often keep a collection of maps pinned up on at least one of our studio walls. In the instance above, we have maps showing the LA Metro system, as well as a large aerial photograph of the lower Los Angeles River that was used by our summer interns.

In addition to plants, the other palette of materials we use are referred to as hardscape: paving materials in the form of individual pavers, rock, or concrete. The stack of material samples shown above represent real product, but in small quantities. The collection sits on the edge of my desk so we are able to look at them as a team to determine the best texture and colors for the finished paving design.

As an avid reader, there is always a stack of magazines with bookmarked articles sitting on my desk. Even as I eventually get through a couple, I always end up adding to the pile – a Sisyphean reading task that never diminishes. Yet, ever the optimist, I harbor hopes to make a dent over the winter break…

A landscape architect is continually required to jump between pulling out books, inspecting maps, researching online, and comparing materials with another designer on a daily basis. And I have to say, despite the challenges faced, I am ever so grateful to be able to work in a creative field where I am surrounded by these creative tools every day I walk into AHBE. In sum, they make for a very interactive, innovative, and often fun work environment.

Photos by Jennifer Salazar

We’re well into the month of November, with “Back to School” a forgone conclusion. Nevertheless, I really wanted to share my own thoughts about the topic, looking back to a time before I became a professional landscape architect.

It was twenty years ago when I was an MLA student at the University of Washington (UW pronounced “you dub” for short). I was fortunate at UW to have numerous Landscape Architecture professors guide me through the rigors of learning analysis, design, and construction. Coming from a science background, I remember struggling early on with grasping the “design” aspect of the program. Professors John Koepke, Barbara Swift, and Sally Shauman, amongst others, worked with our class early in the program to teach us about landscape design. Each instructor provided us with various assignments to give us practice and confidence and I can draw a direct connection with the work I do today to two particular professors from this time as a landscape architecture student.

One important figure in my academic development  was Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA. Daniel joined the UW faculty mid-way through my studies, and he proved to be a challenging, yet caring teacher. An energetic, fast talking, direct man from New Jersey via Boston, Daniel  challenged students about construction and design techniques at every turn. He also led a neighborhood-scale master planning studio similar to the large scale open space planning projects AHBE is currently pursuing.

Always engaged and willing to share his knowledge, Daniel is still teaching at the University of Washington, and I always look forward to seeing him at the ASLA conventions, as I did a few weeks ago. Daniel continues leading design-build programs, taking students around the world to provide landscape design and construction services into environments where they’re most needed.

Another source of inspiration at UW – this time, representing the written word – was Iain Robertson, Associate Professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, College of the Environment. As someone who enjoyed writing and reading, Iain helped encourage the development of my non-fiction writing skills. Even today, I still remember when he pulled down an expired announcement from a nearby bulletin board to write several references on the backside of the sheet – recommendations that proved extremely valuable. I still have that list.

Iain was also responsible for introducing me to a wide range of non-fiction landscape authors – Michael Pollan, John McPhee and Dylan Thomas. These writers all became personal favorites, and I continue to revisit their writing again and again even after all these years.

I also continue to hold onto Iain’s handwritten critiques of my writing assignments, and also the writing workshop notes we received during his classes. I still find his lessons useful to refer to today while writing for AHBE LAB, and also while reading other contributors’ posts.

This lesson presentation (PDF) Iain designed a few years ago is an example of his ability to foster creativity in design education and other professions.

What was it that made these two personalities such memorable teachers? I think it was that both Daniel and Iain showed their students care and respect, alongside their commitment to offering honest critiques. In the long run, the combination would make us better landscape architects, with both instructors leaving an indelible mark that has continued to help me today as a landscape architect, manager, and writer twenty years later.  

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All photos by Jack Coyier

After many seasons of consecutive drought, numerous landscape architecture teams have begun addressing solutions to mitigate Southern California’s water needs. Landscape architects are designing and implementing various methods creatively, including stormwater capture, reuse systems, and other means, like concrete lining removal from Los Angeles River tributaries to allow groundwater to recharge. These type of solutions have become standard design elements throughout our city in the last few years.

But almost 10 years ago, back in 2008, AHBE had already completed a water-wise project: the first Downtown Los Angeles Green Street project.

Our client – developers, The South Group Partnership – were building mixed use housing with retail attached on the block between 11th and 12th, and Hope and Grand. Their plans envisioned revitalizing the neighborhood, with one of the central components of the project a voluntary inclusion of a wider public right of way for pedestrians, alongside other streetscape upgrades from all sides of the property.

Infiltration planters were designed in collaboration with civil engineering specialists, KPFF. The planters were designed to permit stormwater to enter through cuts in the sidewalk curb from the street and flow through specially designed planters. The flow through these planters was slowed down by specifically chosen plants picked for their natural ability to filter roadway toxins. Additionally, water flowing into the planters were designed to feed the plants before flowing out back onto the curb and into the adjacent series of planters further down-slope. The toxin-absorbing plants would need replacing approximately every 5 years, while street trees planted in separate tree wells did not require such replacement. A permanent irrigation system was also installed, maintained by the developer to provide water to the plants year round.

Other streetscape improvements of the first Downtown Los Angeles Green Street project included lighting, shade trees, drought tolerant planting, bike racks, and bench seating. Corner curbs were extended to increase pedestrian visibility and decrease crossing distances across the busy downtown street, helping to slow down vehicular traffic.

We’re proud recognizing the city of Los Angeles has since incorporated the details of the flow-through planters noted above into their Green Street standards, where they’ll be used for other public streets projects. This original project also garnered a number of design awards, including the Honor Award for Urban Design in 2008 from the AIA CC, the Honor Award in 2010 from the ASLA Southern California, and also the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2008 Award of Excellence for Residential Landscape. These infiltration planters are now being proposed for the Alameda Promenade as part of AHBE’s 1st and Central TIGER Grant streetscape project scheduled to be constructed in the next few years.

As autumn officially arrives later this month, I’ve begun taking stock of our summer kitchen garden and the lessons learned in tending to its needs. I measure success by how close I’m able to provide a feast such as this aspirational bounty. It might be a lofty dream, but I retackle the challenge each spring with optimism.

Alas, I’ve fallen short yet again. Tis the fate of the kitchen garden of this landscape architect! But yet, there were many lessons learned, and even a few successes:


Right now my geraniums – potted flowers rooted in memories of my Grandmother’s backyard in San Bernardino – are blooming profusely. This plethora of deep color pollinated with nostalgia keep these flowers in my backyard near the kitchen garden.


Only one tomato plant thrived to provide a number of sweet cherry tomatoes this season. And even now, though there are still plenty of fruit on its vines, the leaves have begun turning yellow. The other three tomato plants grew lovely green leaves, but also sprouted fruit with blossom end rot, producing inedible fruit. Ugh! Seems cherry tomatoes are less susceptible to this rot (and are full of delicious flavor!).


A summer garden mainstay, our towering drying sunflower blooms continue to provide food for local birds and squirrels.


The marigolds add some spots of bright color in the garden, while the watermelon continues to flower and set fruit. And what tasty fruit they have produced on their long vines! I will definitely plant more again next spring.


Though notably early in the season, some pomegranates fruiting on our huge shrub look ready for harvest already.


I’m pleased to report of a small, yet notable victory: I finally got a basil plant to flourish! Usually it’s dead within a couple of weeks. But I think I found a semi-shaded spot next to the French and Mexican tarragon plants where the basil seems to thrive. Each of these herbs provide a renewable culinary resource to cut to use while cooking – adding fantastic flavor and aroma to every dish – growing back again and again.


This was my attempt to get a creative shot from underneath our dwarf Meyer lemon tree looking up into its canopy. Periodically, I’ve been able to harvest fruit from its branches this summer, but I’m expecting an even bigger harvest this winter.

I’ve also come to the pragmatic conclusion that I need to install drip irrigation system on a timer to keep everything watered sufficiently. By the end of summer, I undoubtedly grow tired of dragging around the hose every very hot morning!