Posts by Linda Daley


Image Collage: credits for photos are as shown in this post.

This is the second part of my coverage of Perceptions of the Los Angeles River, which is a photography exhibition by AHBE colleagues and friends. See part one for an introduction and a selection of photographs from the collection. I chose another set for this week and share the story behind each work, as told by the individual photographer.

credit: “James” by Andrea Klein

photo by Calvin R. Abe

Title of Work: “James”
Photographer: Andrea Klein (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  James is a plein air painter who I met while visiting the Los Angeles River in Glendale Narrows. He was focused on a landscape scene on the opposite bank of the river. Although people, like myself, stopped to chat with him, he remained single minded in capturing the view on his canvas. As I looked over his shoulder, I realized my attention was not focused on his painting but on his act of interpreting the context of the river. I took my photo at that moment of realization. I removed the image’s color component to draw the focus away from his canvas and underscore the moment of observation and perception.


credit: “Emergence” by Jessica Roberts

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Emergence”
Photographer: Jessica Roberts (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  I wrote at length about “Emergence” in an earlier post and share my thoughts again in this synopsis. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, I hope viewers will focus on the horizon line and interpret its meaning in relationship to everything else they observe. The horizon line is a visual component that gives perspective to a landscape, and its quality is arguably the most defining element of a place.

Being in the LA River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth. The experience is different from the layered nature of a forest or the density of buildings in a city. The sensation can feel as disorienting and isolating as standing in the middle of a prairie, without even the sway of the grasses to distract attention. It is an uncommon urban experience.

credit: “iAguas!” by Darren Shirai

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “iAguas!”
Photographer: Darren Shirai (shown at right)
Artist’s Statement:  The word aguas can mean different things in Mexican Spanish. It can mean ‘waters’, as seen flowing in the river channel on the right side of my photo or used as a warning in situations like the scene depicted on the left, where its meaning in American English is “Watch it!” or “Heads up!”.

Like the word aguas, this photo has a double meaning that conveys my perception of the Los Angeles River. I captured this “LA moment” along a stretch of the river in the Glendale Narrows. It represents the promise of an optimistic future where the river corridor and the landscape along it banks revitalize and reconnect people and communities – spiritually, socially, ecologically and economically. However, this scene also reminds me of the need for vigilance when our profession assesses the broader contextual impacts of a proposed landscape design, and the integrity required to creatively overcome impending design challenges in equitable and meaningful ways. iAguas!

credit: “Weedy Foreground” by Jenni Zell

photo by Sahar Coston-Hardy

Title of Work: “Weedy Foreground”
Photographer: Jenni Zell (shown at right) 
Artist’s Statement:  I took this photo in the channel of the Los Angeles River and was initially captivated by the audacity of this species to set up life in such a hostile place. Positioning my camera with plants in the foreground and middle ground creates the illusion of a future takeover of vegetative growth in the channel of the Los Angeles River. Takeover is unlikely, and the species pictured in the foreground is Plantago lanceolate, a noxious invasive plant. At closer inspection, Weedy Foreground crushes any dreamy vision of a restored native riparian landscape and instead predicts a future where only the most noxious and invasive species survive.


Perceptions of the Los Angeles River features the works of: Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jenni Zell. You may recognize some of the names as regular contributors to AHBE Lab. The LA River is a subject of ongoing research and exploration for our staff, many of whom share their thoughts and discoveries through AHBE Lab.

Image by AHBE Landscape Architects

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is a group exhibition featuring photographs by Calvin Abe, Cristhian Barajas, Wendy Chan, Chuan Ding, Andrea Klein, Clarence Lacy, Brett Miller, Susan Miller, Jessica Roberts, Jennifer Salazar, Darren Shirai, Morgan Thompson, Yiran Wang, Mateo Yang, and Jennifer Zell. On view at AHBE’s design studio, the collection conveys our photographers’ multiple points of view about the Los Angeles River’s identity and sense of place. Through their work, they challenge viewers to think about the LA River in ways they did not imagine.

Landscape architect, Wendy Chan, came up with the exhibition’s concept theme and curated the show. As she describes,

“Each participant was asked to submit a photo representing his or her perception of the L.A. River. As we started to lay out the photos in our gallery space, we were fascinated by the range and diversity of the images. A few photographers captured the river as a beautiful art piece. Some people focused on the river’s wildlife and habitats. Others explored its urban context and role as urban infrastructure. Interactions between people and animals resulted in a surprising scene of disruption in one work and peaceful serenity in another. Overall, the collection truly represents how the L.A. River inspires beauty, dreams, and possibilities for Angelenos.” – Wendy Chan

A selection of images from the exhibition are presented here.


Title of Work: “Layers”
Photographer: Wendy Chan 
Artist’s Statement:  My photograph was taken at the North Broadway Bridge, in the neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. When I was a child, I would cross the North Broadway Bridge frequently on my way to Chinatown and observed the river’s seasonal transformations from a trickling stream to a powerful torrent. Although the river was visually close from where I stood, getting to it was difficult. I felt the river was a world away. My photograph represents the multiple layers of roadway, fencing, railroad tracks, and walls blocking my access to nature within my city.


Title of Work:  “Do you feel the river tonight?”
Photographer: Chuan Ding 
Artist’s Statement:   

Nobody knows Los Angeles without knowing its river.” – Joan Didion

However, nobody truly knows the LA River without seeing it at night. When the sun goes down and the last light of day gives way to the night, the river and city take on an amazing filtered quality. Walking along the 7th Street Bridge on a winter night in 2017, I paused to admire the scene. In my mind’s eye, night turns down the city’s heat, chaos, and noise. Layers of railroad tracks were lined up in front of me; empty trains moved back and forth as tracks and rail cars were tested after-hours. Ahead, the glory of downtown shined and then faded away. Time seemed frozen. All I felt at that moment was the night, myself and the LA River, which became the witness to my love story.


Title of Work:  “Break”
Photographer: Clarence Lacy 
Artist’s Statement: As I traveled all along the lower portion of the Los Angeles River, I discovered spaces created by various planes of concrete. The multiple grounds are perfect settings for observing the play of light and shadows. At one point, I remember feeling as if I was in a middle ground, standing one plane above the base of the river but below the surrounding city. I was inspired by the overwhelming scale and its beauty.

BREAKby Clarence Lacy

This river does not feel urban.
I look up, I don’t see a city;
a blue expanse disorients me.

Where am I?

An altered state of urbanity,
strolling on foot,
along the river bottom.

A break in the expanse;
a hint of a city around.

I feel enclosed, not trapped.
This is only a short break.


Featured photographers (left to right, above): Chuan Ding, Clarence Lacy, Wendy Chan. Photos by Linda Daley.

Perceptions of the Los Angeles River is on view, for a limited time, inside the AHBE studio.


All Photos Courtesy of AHBE Landscape Architects

The sharp ting! from my phone penetrated the silence of the early morning. I was expecting news any day but was not prepared when it finally arrived. Kiku Kurahashi, my friend and colleague, succumbed to cancer and passed away on July 19. She was 57 years old.

Kiku’s sister, Aki, requested a selection of pictures for her memorial service. Kiku started with AHBE in 1999, a year after I joined. So I had nearly two decades of photos to sort through in my own and the firm’s archives.

I experienced an avalanche of emotions at first as I observed her life captured in so many moments. The search turned into a healing process for me. Kiku and I spent a lot of time together over the years – during working hours and at occasional social events, garden tours, and other gatherings. I found comfort in reminiscing about her and feel lucky to have known her.

Team AHBE spells K-I-K-U after a game.

When news of Kiku’s passing spread, many people who knew her expressed their sorrow over the loss of this gentle soul and talented designer. They also shared their stories about how she touched their lives in positive ways.

I end my tribute with a special story Aki shared about her sister. It says so much about Kiku’s passion for our profession and her stand in the world. During a 1989 trip to Paris, Aki and Kiku visited the Luxembourg Gardens and stayed for hours. The visit was a breakthrough for Kiku and, according to Aki, her baptism into landscape architecture. While they sat on a bench in the garden, Kiku said to her :

“This is what I want to create for the rest of my life. A garden that lasts forever for people.”

Arigato, my friend. Rest in peace.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris


Life threw me another curveball recently. A casual walk one afternoon turned badly when I tripped, landing into a few weeks of back and knee pain. The whole experience made me appreciate the physical activity I took for granted before. It also gave me insight into how people with disabilities experience public spaces.

Coincidentally, two work associates are also dealing with physical injuries much worse than my own. Although I did not depend on a mobility aid to get around, my colleagues have been using crutches, a knee-walker, or cane. As we struggled with our individual physical limitations, our sudden connection with the disabilities community was transformative, leaving us much more aware of the design of public spaces.

All photos by Linda Daley

Urban streets in major cities like Los Angeles are often challenging even for the able-bodied. We became acutely cognizant of uneven sidewalk surfaces along the streets we traveled. In one occurrence, I was forced to walk along the side of a busy road to avoid a raised sidewalk that I could not manage. I have a new appreciation for curb ramps at street crossings, now wishing them everywhere. The slightest pitch in the path of travel could result in exhaustion by the end, while a shady seat to rest is a rare helpful sighting across urban streets.

A quiet moment captured at the South Park Streetscape project in Downtown L.A.

My injured colleagues and I also lamented over the only set of elevators at the Metro rail station nearest our office. When you are using crutches or a scooter, escalators are not an option. They are crowded, fast moving, and just plain scary. The elevators at our local station are unfortunately located furthest away from our office building. Imagine the emotional and physical toll when faced with another two blocks downhill through crowded downtown sidewalks while relying on crutches — and then upslope at the end of the day.

I recall a class I took many years ago as a student of landscape architecture. The course focused on designing for ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliance. For one session, our instructor asked us to meet him at a spot on the college campus. He arrived with a wheelchair and required each of us to take turns using it as the group walked around. He drove home his points about accessibility as we struggled with the smallest slopes and maneuvered through many circulation barriers. Our last task was to find our way from the upper entry of one building to its lower entry without taking an elevator. The final leg of our path of travel took us to an underlit and isolated corridor. I remember feeling if I was alone, I would be in fear for my safety.

The newly opened Stoneview Nature Center in Culver City.

Although ADA regulations have improved since my university days, the lessons of the ADA-oriented session came back to me vividly after my recent fall. I am older now and do not recover from injuries as I once did. Designing to meet minimum federal or local standards is not good enough when you consider your own aging. For our practice, it is ultimately about people, and enhancing the experience of outdoor environments for everyone.


That one word represents our broader responsibility as designers.

Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Creative Commons photo by Jose Olivares.

Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. Creative Commons photo by Jose Olivares.

On a recent trip to New York City, I made a visit to the Cloisters in upper Manhattan, a museum dedicated to medieval art, artifact, and architecture. Located within Fort Tryon Park, I made my way through the park, enjoying the idyllic setting and views of the Hudson River. By the time I arrived at the Cloisters, I left behind the pace of the city, mellowed by the orchestration of hilly paths, forested enclaves, flowering gardens, and river views by the park’s designers, the Olmsted brothers. Once inside the Cloisters, I felt a quietness and calm inside myself, despite the crowds of visitors.

The slowing down of time seemed stronger for me as I sat in one of the inner open-air courtyards, where nature came alive. Bird sounds interrupted the quiet, and I was able to distinguish different sounds. But I wished I knew more about our diverse bird species.

Photos by Linda Daley

The Cloisters_2759

Photos by Linda Daley

When I closed my eyes, I could hear the flow of the distant Hudson River. I became aware how much of nature’s sounds I tune out or miss as I go about my daily routines—a process of “learned deafness” that we experience as a result of our urban lifestyle.

“My advice is to go to your protected areas and experience what you are missing.” – Derrick Taff, social scientist at Pennsylvania State University

Good advice when you want to unlearn urban deafness! For fun, find a quiet room and take this auditory tunes test to determine your sense of pitch. Good luck!