Posts by Wendy Chan

All photos: Wendy Chan

I recently visited the city of Marrakech in Morocco, where I found myself captivated by the city’s various medinas – the maze-like network of narrow streets that weaves to create dense and distinct neighborhoods. A medina is characterized by walled-in narrow streets containing public facilities like souks (traditional markets), fountains, and mosques, and found within North African and Maltese cities.

Some of the walls surrounding the Marrakech medinas date back to the 12th century. Made with locally sourced orange-red clay, it becomes obvious how Marrakech earned its nickname of the “Red City”.

The buildings within a medina are all enclosed with tall walls which adds to a sense of spatial enclosure and the maze-like setting. But just when you think you are completely lost, the narrow streets open up to various public squares and plazas bustling with activities. These open markets and food stalls help re-orient visitors and locals
alike.

As I was exploring the medina, I stumbled upon various markets where local residents do their daily shopping. There are open markets dedicated to produce, alongside swap meets for trading and selling of used houseware and clothes.

We visited various medinas within the city of Marrakech, noting each one representing its own character. But they offered easy walkability, a great sense of community, and were all populated with friendly people, their hospitality often accompanied with the offer of delicious mint tea.

All photos by Wendy Chan

Even though I grew up feeling disconnected from nature as a child, as an adult I now find myself seeking the natural world for inspiration. Whether exploring the trails up in our local mountains or in outdoor areas within the city where nature is carefully planned and designed into the landscape, nature offers inspiration for this landscape architect. Every trip into nature permits an opportunity to bring these experiences and moments of serenity found in nature back into the studio to apply into the context of an urban environment project.

Earlier this year, I visited the town of Dazaifu in the Fukuoka Prefecture of Japan. There, a beautiful dry landscape Japanese garden at the back of the Komyozenji Temple awaits tucked against a hillside named Ittekikaitei, “A Drop of Ocean Garden”. I was immediately taken aback by the serenity of the garden at first sight after walking through the sliding door entry. The garden conveys the movement of water through landscape with a thoughtful arrangement of minimal materials: moss, rocks, gravel, and trees.

As I sat in this harmonious landscape, I could feel the serene tranquility the garden designers and caretakers intended to convey through its every features. I felt I could sit there for hours, feeling the wind, listening to the birds, and watching the soft rustle of leaves against the wind. I almost forgot that the city was just outside the temple’s doorsteps.

Sitting there on the porch overlooking the garden, I felt compelled to remember this feeling and return home to incorporate this sense of serenity into my own landscape architecture projects. Hopefully one day those entering and experiencing a project I design will feel an introspective moment of calm with nature like I did that memorable day inside Komyozenji Temple.

Photo by Sibyelle Algaier

One of the first projects I worked on soon after joining AHBE was the Cal Poly Pomona Business Administration Building, a landscape architecture project that eventually became one of my favorite projects. Cal Poly Pomona is my alma mater, so the project presented an amazing opportunity to contribute back to the school and campus.

Photo by Sibyelle Algaier

The Cal Poly Pomona Business Administration project – located adjacent to the iconic Kellogg Rose Garden, and on the site of the former Horticulture building and greenhouses – consists of three new Business Administration buildings, each designed by architects, AC Martin Partners.

Sketch by Calvin Abe

The formation of the new buildings was formed to create a courtyard to invite students to gather, study, and build relationships. The courtyard itself represents a physical and spatial metaphor for the various stages of business relationships: introduction, the forming of connections, negotiation, and social gathering. The outdoor spaces are where students first meet – beginning in the entry forecourt, transitioning to other more intimate and group social areas where building relationships seems a natural outcome of the welcoming environment.

Photo by Calvin Abe

The geometry of the courtyard was derived from the formal nature of the nearby Rose Garden, radiating from the concentric circles of the floral garden itself, while the pathways through the courtyard are lined with vegetative swales that act as biofiltration areas, treating stormwater runoff during the wet season.

Photo by Calvin Abe

Since the location of the new buildings required demolition of the existing horticulture building and greenhouses, we invited Cal Poly Pomona’s Horticulture professor to help choose specific tree species he preferred as part of the project’s plant palette, an extension and support of the horticulture program. Tree species in the palette eventually chosen included Calodendrum capense (Cape Chestnut), Acer Saccharinum (Sugar Maple), Schefflera elegantissima (False Aralia), and Maytenus boaria (Mayten Tree). I believe this collaboration between our team and the university’s Horticulture professor resulted in a playful planting design represented by an eccentric collection of plants that harmoniously work together, forming a unique botanic garden experience presented in an urban campus setting that matures and evolves every year.

The Cal Poly Pomona Business Administration courtyard in 2017. Photo by Mateo Yang

I learned a great deal working on Cal Poly Pomona Business Administration project – from how to layout hardscape joints, to the thoughtful process and relationship of where softscape, hardscape, and building meet – a particularly memorable and enriching first experience for a recent college graduate that showed me the process by which the conceptual became a reality.

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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: Wendy Chan

My entire perspective of the urban landscape changed one day while studying to become a landscape architect. I had decided to take a course titled, Plant Identification, with the hopes of improving my knowledge of everything growing around me. Before this class, I did not know the names of the plants and trees commonly found growing within the urban environment of Los Angeles. I came out with an entirely different view of the world.

Through the course of three quarters, we learned about the native origins, habits, scientific names, and characteristics of various plants and trees that thrive across several Southern California ecosystems. We also spent class sessions walking through campus with the purpose of identifying and discussing plants, with supplementary visits to botanical gardens, nurseries, and native habitats to strengthen our understanding of what, where, and how plants grow in urban environments. The Plant Identification course turned out to be my favorite class throughout my term as a student in the landscape architecture program. The tree that was once simply referred to as the “tree with pink flowers and spikes across its trunk” became Chorsia speciosa, aka the Floss Silk Tree; I now knew its South American origins and preferred habitat, alongside the protective nature of those spikes across its trunk evolved to “keep Amazonian animals, especially monkeys, from chewing on the trunks“. The class entirely changed my perspective and perception of the landscape.

During the span of this class I began to recognize my perception of the landscape was previously quite narrow. The only trees I could readily identify were those already associated with personal memories, those growing edible fruits, or ones connected with a spatial experience. The most easily identifiable trees were tied to childhood memories: the avocado tree, jujube tree, pomelo tree, and the mulberry tree. An avocado tree growing in my neighbor’s yard during my childhood would occasionally drop their creamy fruit over onto our yard, allowing us to make various recipes using the ripe fruit. The jujube trees were planted by our landlord; we would harvest them as snacks, drying some out to use later in soups. The leaves of the pomelo tree were gathered by my mother as she walked me to school; she would tie them in bunches to use in a bath – a traditional Chinese medicinal and spiritual practice believed to ward off evil spirits. The leaves of the mulberry tree were harvested for my science project, to feed my family of ravenous silkworm caterpillars.

Ever since this change in perspective, I can’t help but dissect the various layers of the landscape everywhere I go, with various layers of thought processes that lead me to asking: “What kind of tree is that? How does the landscape enhance the experience? Is it a habitat for animals? How often does it shed its bark?”

I now often find a desire to photograph plants and trees while hiking, walking around neighborhoods, or while traveling, all with the purpose of identifying them later. You never know when photos of the landscape can be used in a future project, or when they may again lead to a change in perspective about the landscape all around us.

When my parents moved to California, they settled down just east of Chinatown in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. At that time, my parents decided to settle there due to it’s close proximity to Chinatown and the relatively affordable rent. I spent a good part of my childhood exploring the neighborhood, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to truly appreciate the walkability Chinatown offers.

What makes Chinatown so walking friendly?

I believe it’s partially attributed to the Chinese culture, but also because of the dense residential layouts, short blocks, human scaled storefronts, and most importantly, the small businesses that serve the community. There’s a wide variety of shops ranging from family owned supermarkets, herb shops, seafood, eateries, bakeries, clothiers, and many more serving the tight knit community. Growing up, my parents did all of their shopping and errands within a few square miles. We purchased our birthday cakes at Queen Bakery and Phoenix Bakery, brought our produce at Ai Hoa Supermarket, and picked up fresh chicken from the local poultry shop.

But the small businesses environment in Chinatown is changing. There is now a mixture of new and old businesses that co-exist together, each serving different demographics, both culturally and generationally. The younger generation has moved away from Chinatown, leaving an increasingly elderly immigrant population that relies heavily upon the shops and services for their daily needs.
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