Posts tagged American Society of Landscape Architects

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: Brett Miller

Each year the American Society of Landscape Architects hosts an annual meeting and expo across numerous cities. Each host city showcases the local talents of our profession. But few are aware of a complementary program implemented for each host city known as the ASLA Legacy Project. In partnership with the ACE Mentorship Program, each host city selects a site (usually a park, school yard, or community center), then matches professionals with the community with the goal of providing a design service not normally available to that site.

This year the ASLA Annual Meeting/Expo is being hosted in Los Angeles. I had the opportunity to volunteer for a working session at the Santee Educational Complex, where I was invited to work with the students, and participate in a design charrette hosted at AHBE. The project’s goal is to bring some excitement and greenery to an otherwise gray and hard internal courtyard, currently the school’s primary communal outdoor space.

The process began with summer classes earlier this year. And during these classes, the Legacy Project Team engaged students for their input, inquiring about their views about the program, circulation, and any additional insights about the culture of Santee that could aid in the development of the design. Over several weeks, an updated plan was presented to students, inviting another round of input from the students. The team would reconvene at an office and continue to develop the plan, per student feedback.

Last Friday, I was invited to attend the working session with the students where three different schemes were presented. There were eight tables with students on stools circled around, and at each table a plan was accompanied with some markers and stickers. Students were invited to use the stickers to designate features they liked, while markers were used to cross out program elements they didn’t like. Comments were written in the margins – what to add or enhance. By the end of the session, all three plans were covered in color and stickers.

The next day the team was joined by students from Cal Poly and other local professionals at our office for a morning work session.  Together, we began the decision making process, combining the three schemes and feedback into a single plan, sketched onto trace paper. This plan was then offered to the Cal Poly students to take back to their computers to generate one final plan to present to the Santee students. The final plan proposes creating more shade and seating than is currently available, while also providing a lot more gathering opportunities for both large and small groups. A partnership with a local arts program to paint murals across the new space is also imagined for this site.

Teaming up with local vendors, non-profits, and the ASLA – the Legacy Project has turned out not to be just a hypothetical design exercise, but one that will be fully implemented, and in the process result in our team leaving our fingerprint on the community through design.

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The landscape gardening and landscape architecture of the late Humphry Repton, esq., being his entire works on these subjects : ...with historical and scientific introduction, a systematic analysis, a biographical notice, notes, and copious alphabetical index by Repton, Humphry, 1752-1818; Loudon, J. C. (John Claudius), 1783-1843

The landscape gardening and landscape architecture of the late Humphry Repton, esq., being his entire works on these subjects : …with historical and scientific introduction, a systematic analysis, a biographical notice, notes, and copious alphabetical index
by Repton, Humphry, 1752-1818; Loudon, J. C. (John Claudius), 1783-1843

“So, what do you do again? Something to do with gardens?” asked my Aunt politely during our last family Christmas get together.

Being on the complete opposite side of the political aisles, I was trying desperately to avoid any conversation with her about anything related to Fox News or the actual citizenship of our current sitting president.

“Yeah, kind of, Auntie. I’m a landscape architect. I do…uh…ummmm…” [pause].

The problem with being a landscape architect is that defining the profession defies the “elevator test”: if you can’t explain an idea to someone in an elevator by the time they get to their floor, the idea is too complex and will not be memorable. Considering I’ve been practicing landscape architecture for over 25 years, and I see my Aunt a couple of times a year, I think we can safely say the elevator test certainly applies to her. So, what can I tell her to keep the conversation going while avoiding any mention of Sean Hannity?

Let’s begin with how the American Society of Landscape Architects defines my profession:

“Landscape architects analyze, plan, design, manage, and nurture the built and natural environments. Landscape architects have a significant impact on communities and quality of life. They design parks, campuses, streetscapes, trails, plazas, and other projects that help define a community.

Sure, that’s an elevator definition…if we were taking an elevator up to the moon! “Nurture the built and natural environments”? How exactly does one nurture a built environment? I am working on the clock here!

Let’s try Googling the profession and let Wikipedia help define the profession:

“Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes.”

Sure, but there are landscape architects that design residential landscapes and gardens, not just “public areas” and “landmarks”. Hold on…landmarks? We design landmarks? Huh? I’m not sure we are getting any better! I can imagine my Aunt losing interest with every passing minute and wordy description.

What do I tell my mom, someone who always has had trouble explaining to her friends what I do?

“Mom, you know how architects design buildings? Well, I design everything outside of the building, from the roads, walkways, plants and trees. Um, except when either a civil engineer or an architect does it. Yes mom, I do think you made a good choice to send me to the university. I think my father would not have been disappointed.”

Okay, that isn’t going to do it, either.

What do we do that’s special? What do engineers and architects rely on us to do for them? We do know and understand plants. We also seem to be really good at understanding dynamic, living systems, and utilize that knowledge to create environments with a sense of design and order, complementing the buildings and structures they surround. Our work mimics and ideally enhances a natural environment. But how do you say that all before the elevator stops and the door opens?

“Landscape architects design living systems, Auntie,” I blurt out.

“Oh, that’s nice, dear! Now, did you know that Obamacare authorizes death squads that kill old people?”

*Sigh* Drat.

The Making of 10 Parks That Changed America panel; photo via American Society of Landscape Architects Facebook page.

The Making of 10 Parks That Changed America panel; photo via American Society of Landscape Architects Facebook page.

Last week, I attended the annual conference of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in Chicago, and one of the most memorable sessions was a behind-the-scenes discussion about an upcoming PBS television episode titled, 10 Parks That Changed America. Scheduled to air in April 2016, the episode is part of a series exploring the topic of the built environment – homes, parks, and towns – a subject which commenced with the airing of 10 Buildings That Changed America back in 2013. The latest series installment will undoubtedly raise the public’s awareness about landscape architecture, and in the process, our profession behind it.

PBS turned to a select group of landscape architects and urban planners for advice and fact checking guidance for the park episode. Although Dan Protess (producer) and Geoffrey Baer (host) revealed to the audience a few of the parks selected for the series during the panel, I was most intrigued by the selection process that eventually resulted in only ten parks chosen out of the rich history of American landscapes. I was also interested about deciding which parks meet the significant criteria and claim of “changing America.”

Not surprisingly, the selections were influenced by more than the merits of their design alone. The show’s producer sought examples in cities throughout the U.S. accompanied with diverse stories that would appeal to a broad viewership. Large historical parks such as Central Park, and neighborhood parks which may be better known to a local community, were considered.

Gas Works Park, Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Gas Works Park, Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Thaisa Way — a landscape historian from the University of Washington, a show advisor, and session panelist — revealed her eventual list of ten parks was determined after looking for landscape works that “transformed the public imagination”. She included Seattle’s Gas Works Park (one of the first post-industrial landscapes to be transformed into a public place) and New York’s Paley Park (a small park built on private property, but open to the public).

Lurie Garden in Fall, photo by Linda Daley)

Lurie Garden in Fall, photo by Linda Daley

I was compelled to think about my own list of parks during the discussion. Central Park, Paley Park, and Boston Common immediately all came to mind. Although they are transformative landscapes in terms of urban destinations and community spaces, my choices were a result of my own history and personal connection with them. What would be on your list?

Chicago’s Millennium Park; Photo by Linda Daley

Chicago’s Millennium Park; Photo by Linda Daley

Even more surprising than learning which parks were to be included in 10 Parks That Changed America were the parks that did not make the cut for the series. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing which ones they are…you’ll have to watch the series in April yourself.

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This is the video record of an art installation.

In 2007, we began to openly question the concept of sustainability. At the same time we recognized we as professionals were accumulating tons of waste paper. As landscape architects the paper trail is tied to our design process: we draw on trace paper, take countless meeting notes, plot construction drawings, etc.

Conceptually So What? was not just a question of whether it is appropriate or possible to operate as a paperless design office – we still struggle with the concept – but also an investigation of where all of our waste paper eventually ends up.

The installation took place in April 2007 at the Museum of Design Art and Architecture in Culver City. The video, produced to communicate our ideas to the general public, received a 2008 Honor Award in Communications from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).