Posts from the Expressions Category

Phacelia cicutaria (aka Catepillar Phacelia). All photos: Wendy Chan

As someone born and raised in Southern California, I’m always curious about the perceptions of other Angelenos who didn’t grow up here. I always wonder, “How is Los Angeles different from their own hometowns?”, and “What is their perception of the Southern California landscape and nature here compared to where they’re originally from?”

Transplants often mention the lush green garden landscapes and the amazing urban tree canopies of their own hometowns. They also complain about the lack of discernible seasons in Los Angeles compared to other parts of the nation.

Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

But what are some botanical indicators of seasons in Southern California? It’s often non-native trees that bloom across Los Angeles that offer observable visual indicators of the changing of seasons. For example, the beautiful purple blooms of the Jacaranda trees and white blooms of the Southern Magnolia tree bloom in spring, while the red leaves of the Sweet Gum trees reveal themselves in fall. These trees offer a more obvious change seasons in the city. The seasonal cues revealed by our native plants in the mountains require a more careful eye.

Bouteloua gracilis

Lately I’ve set out to document the seasonal indicators revealed in our Santa Monica Mountains. The goal of my project is to understand how our native plants change throughout the seasons – from their beautiful flowers in the springtime, to a period of dormancy through summer, to new life reveled in fall. Photographing California’s native plants reveals seasonal changes, including the striking warm colors of dried flower blooms lining trails and the swaying arid woody stems of our native landscape. The collection of photos here were all taken this spring, each revealing the subtle seasons of Southern California.

Bromus spp. (aka Brome Grass)

Encelia californica (aka Bush Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

Eriogonum fasciculatum (aka California Buckwheat)

Eriophyllum confertiflorum (Golden Yarrow)

Lotus scoparius (Deer Weed)

Malosma laurina (Laurel Sumac)

Phacelia spp.

Salvia leucophylla (Purple Sage)

What if you could produce clean drinking water just by running your air conditioner?

This experiment was conducted this past summer to determine how much water could potentially be captured from a home’s rooftop package air conditioning unit during the hottest days of the year. Conducted in July 2017 during a particularly sweltering Los Angeles week, Eau De Maison documents the process of constructing the water capture system, implementing the experiment, and analyzing the results of the follow-up water quality testing.

Thanks to Wallace Laboratories for their assistance. Music by Protman. Produced for AHBE LAB.

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.

This month, AHBE Landscape Architects celebrates 30 years of transforming the landscapes of Southern California (and beyond). Created on the occasion of his elevation to the ASLA Council of Fellows in 2004, Expressions is a biographical portrait of Calvin Abe, FASLA, our founding Partner and President of AHBE.

The video above traces the design and development of three formative projects from our practice: the No Name Garden (1999) at the Japanese-American Community Cultural Center in Little Tokyo, the Infonet Corporate Campus in El Segundo (1999), and the Los Angeles River Center Garden Park (2000) in Los Angeles.

Happy birthday, Calvin!

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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