Posts tagged landscape architecture

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

 

Photos by Gary Lai

To many in the public and the A/E industry, the aesthetics of our infrastructure is considered an extraneous consideration. According to this pragmatic point-of-view, a bridge’s purpose is solely to move people from one side to the other, with innovation being defined by improvements in the speed and/or cost in which it’s built. A “beautiful” bridge is too subjective and not quantifiable, making the measure of success too tricky to gauge, and therefore too risky of a decision to make.

In the mid-2000’s, officials and engineers tried to use this argument for the replacement of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, proposing a simple freeway-type overpass replacement. The ensuing firestorm from the public caused an almost decade-long delay costing millions of dollars for studies.

The eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, May 29, 2008. Photo by Brewdog (CC BY-SA 3.0)

People do value aesthetics, so much they are willing to spend money and consume products in pursuit of achieving some semblance of what they consider beautiful. Billions of dollars are spent on paint, paneling, and plants. Aesthetics are important because people think it’s important, and every project we do is for the betterment of people. It is really that simple.

From a landscape perspective, turf is the number one irrigated crop in the United States, even though it has no intrinsic practical value other than sports. I remember overhearing two engineers lamenting how they could never give up their lawns, even though they knew they were wasting water, while waiting for a conference call to start. Even though they intellectually knew the Northern European pastoral landscape imported into the US in the late 19th century is not sustainable here in California, they still could not bring themselves to deviate from the cultural and aesthetic norm. The English pastoral landscape motif is a deeply ingrained cultural and mental construct representing the wealth and success of the English ruling class that we’ve long admired. But, taking a step back, one must recognize it is a ridiculous idea: Californians wrapping Downton Abbey-ish landscapes around our high-tech, energy efficient, 21st century buildings and homes. Why don’t we create our own Californian 21st century aesthetic?

According to the National Resource Defense Council and the Pacific Institute,  commercial, municipal, and residential landscapes combined represent 41% of all urban water use in California. That amounts to roughly 4 million acre feet a year, or 1,303,405,708,000 gallons total. The EPA estimates 50% of all water wasted in the US is due to poorly managed and maintained irrigation systems. My back-of-the-napkin math calculates the wasted amount could service as many as 10 million more people in California, meeting the projected population growth of the next 15 years. In other words, simple adjustments to our irrigation controllers by knowledgeable professionals could save enough water to serve our growing population for the next 15 years without any improvements to our storage or infrastructure. Talk about low-hanging fruit.

What can each of us do?
1. Communicate to your design professionals the importance of the landscape as an integral aspect of your house or project.
2. Reconsider the turf aesthetic and replace it with California-friendly plants.
3. Value the expertise of a knowledgeable landscape maintenance professional, or become self-sufficiently knowledgeable with irrigation controllers and put improvements into practice.

Our population is expected to grow somewhere between 50 to 60 million people by 2050. Current climate models show a 10-15% decrease in the amount of rain California will receive. Now is the time for us to pick the low-hanging fruit.

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Photo by Jessica Roberts

Step in through AHBE’s office front door and visitors are greeted with an ever-changing makeshift gallery space. Currently on display is a photo series dedicated to the Los Angeles River, inviting all to leave the office for the experience of our city’s river. After looking through previous photos of the river I had taken, I selected an image for the exhibition that wasn’t chosen for its dynamic composition, but for the way it helped me understand what it is about the river I find so unique.

My entry, entitled “Emergence”, is a meditation on experiencing landscape in relationship to the horizon, highlighting the moment when the plane and the horizon interact. 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.

In landscape painting the position of the horizon is critical. If depicted too high or too low, the horizon can draw the viewer’s attention too soon before establishing its relation with the rest of the image. By dividing the picture plane evenly in two, rather than using the rule of thirds for example, the viewer is invited to spend time to interpret and question the intention of the perspective, giving meaning to the horizon line and its relationship to everything else. Similarly, the L.A. River is a horizon-spanning mega-infrastructure that has a sense of place that is all-consuming.

Walking around the channelized landscape of the river, with its concrete underfoot and the harsh sun beating down, one feels a strong sense of self in relation to its expanse. A strong sense of the relationship to others is also felt as people pass by on foot or by bike. Conversely, the river can evoke feelings of isolation unlike anywhere else I’ve ever experienced. Gazing ever further out, the canopy of trees establish everything in relationship to the river, and as part of something bigger. The solid concrete below the horizon defines, positions, and intensifies everything, from what grows above to what travels through.

Being in the L.A. River reminds me of being out in the middle of a desert, except sunken down further into the earth, where any entity interrupting the relentless horizontal stands at once as an individual and in relationship to everything else. It is different than 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. The horizon line is commanding and the scale of the built infrastructure makes it seem as though the concrete channel was a natural occurrence, unique to the people who have lived and evolved along side it, unfolding and reordering the human from the natural. The Los Angeles River is a place that cannot be prescribed or repeated again, a feature of the city capable of speaking to the human experience while also testing our capacity to see ourselves in relationship to nature.

The Bug_Dome_by_WEAK!_in_Shenzhen. Photo by Movez/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Biophilia, or the “love of life or living systems”, describes the intimate and innate relationship between humans with nature as deeply rooted within our biology. These connections are attributed to earlier evolutionary origins, but continue to manifest in behaviors today: a physical retreat to nature, formal and informal representations of nature, or an organizational replication of natural systems. The affinity for nature is also a valuable and capable source for informing the design of a built environment. Sites with a connection to nature are not a new concept, noting the Garden Cities, Art Nouveau plant forms, and Olmstead as examples of humanity’s desire for the proximity of nature for respite, beauty, and health, but it seems a resurgence of interest has begun to emerge.

Though Erich Fromm is credited for coining the term biolphilia, the Biophilia hypothesis is the term and idea more commonly known today. Developed and introduced in the 1980s by biologist, theorist, and author E.O. Wilson, the biophilia hypothesis expands upon Fromm’s singular definition, outlining the evolutionary connections between our care and concern for animals and the desire for plants in our personal and professional environments in detail.

Furthermore, design built upon the principles of this hypothesis is referred to as “biophilic design“. According to William Browning, Catherine Ryan, and Joseph Clancy of Terrapin Bright Green – an environmental consulting and strategic planning firm – biophilic design integrates the relationship between nature, human biology and design of the built environment for the physical, psychological, and emotional betterment of the human user. Browning et al define 14 patterns of biophilic design, each fitting into three categories: Nature in Space (a direct connection to nature), Natural Analogues (a formal evocation of nature), and Nature of the Space (spatial configurations found in nature).

Amazon unveiled The Spheres, three glass domes located in Downtown Seattle operating as an escape for their tech employees into a biosphere housing 40,000 plants representing 400 species from around the world.

Of these principles, the one of most personal interest is the natural analogues, which Browning et al describe as:

  • Biomorphism – a formal design principal that seeks to replicate natural forms, those found in nature, or in other life forms. These forms can create a harmony evocative of life without directly imitating them in a recognizable way.
  • Natural Material – connecting to a site’s sense of place or to a larger natural environment through the use of minimally processed local.
  • Complexity and Order – replicating spatial and pattern diversity and hierarchy like that found in nature.

‘Artwall’ installation, made from site remnants, replicating natural forms at Tanner Springs Park. Photo by Jenny Cestnik (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Biophilic design and biomorphism play on our innate connection to nature as humans, seeking to satisfy design harmony and beauty through symbolic references in texture, patterns, contours, and arrangements. Nature is inherently rich and complex through its integrated ecological and geological systems. Replicating this diversity and interconnectedness can yield richly built spaces capable of evoking similar conscious and subconscious reactions.

Bug Dome is a bamboo shelter modeled after mounds created by insects. It was created from site materials as to return to the natural environment when it is no longer needed. Public Domain photo: Härmägeddon.

It should be clear the principles are not simply formal as explored here. Each can be applied to functional systems by designers in realizing sustainable solutions. Natural imitation is a valid and effective strategy within green design and green infrastructure. A holistic approach to applying natural forms and systems into/onto our built environment for building sustainability is well worth investigation.

A wide variety of plants at the Los Angeles Arboretum, presented for judging at the 2018 Fern and Exotic Plant Show. Photos by Kathy Rudnyk.

It was during the dead of winter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1829 when the first large scale garden and flower show was first held. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show featured displays and competitions in flower artistry, garden design, and horticulture. Years later, an indoor marketplace opened featuring the latest plants – from mail order nurseries and local garden centers, to photography and tabletop décor contests. As the show grew, numerous weeklong festivities sponsored by big companies kicked-off the spring garden season months ahead of the event. The surrounding local economy benefitted, now attracting over 250,000 people, and generating over $8,000,000 dollars annually in tax revenue (provided the intrusion of foul winter weather).

As this American show in Philadelphia gained prominence, other flower and garden events blossomed around the country, inspiring the growth of other garden shows and events. These shows include:

  • The Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, the youngest on the block opening in 1989
  • The Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle, Washington
  • The notable and much lauded Chelsea Flower Show in London, England.

The post-parade public viewing of Rose Parade floats offers an excellent opportunity to inspect the fine craftsmanship of seeds and flower pieces arranged into realistic photo-like imagery up close.

Each year thousands of people stricken with spring fever come together inside halls, botanical gardens, and an outdoor marketplace to view living plants – or in the case of our local Rose Parade, line along streets on New Year’s Day for hours to admire floral covered floats. These are activities can be difficult for non-participants to understand unless you’ve been to one of these events yourself.

It takes years to plan the largest of flower and garden shows. The largest of the consumer shows and parades are logistically complex to plan, many which are held during the dead of winter or at the dawn of spring. As someone who has coordinated plants for these events, I can share insight about the challenges related to shipping dormant plants intended for display for only a few days, or maybe even only a couple of hours.

Being a lover of evergreen foliage, I always wondered how a consumer could find beauty in a tree or shrub without any foliage. It inspired me to figure out how to bottle up the excitement I saw over a plant that looked like red sticks inside an exhibit hall at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show and bring it back to Southern California. Even without foliage Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’ (Red-Osier Dogwood) could present a welcome relief in Los Angeles where eternal green foliage is seemingly on everyone’s planting list. I have been fortunate enough to find just the right places and spaces to celebrate these winter dormant colorful architectural shrubs in Los Angeles.

In March, it may still be snowing outside in Philadelphia, but year after year gardening enthusiasts bring their plants to the city for judging. Their dedicated efforts face a panel of critical judges who inspect each specimen, leaf by leaf and stem by stem, searching the perfect plant according to theme or class of plants. Countless tropical plants and orchids are on display all along tables for judging, and competition is really fierce, with significant prizes at stake. I once attended a Camellia show at Descanso Gardens where tables lined with sparkly Waterford crystal were offered as trophies!

Award winning entries at the Los Angeles Arboretum’s popular Inter-City Cactus Show & Sale.

During the Great Recession, many of these larger flower and garden shows struggled. The costs were too high for many nurseries to continue exhibiting at these events. For the average American struggling with rising living costs and less disposable income to spend on gardening and traveling, attendance dropped dramatically, only seeing an uptick from 2014 on. Today, these shows still struggle to appeal to gardeners beyond the aging Baby Boomer generation.

My favorite garden shows are local events featuring a specific type of plant, like succulents, cacti, orchids, ferns or bonsai. Even though I have been in the horticulture industry for over 25 years, I always discover amazing plants at these dedicated shows, revealing fresh observations that creatively inspire me or help me mentor a younger designer with a passion for plants. Recently, I went to the Fern and Exotic Plant Show where I saw tables of terrarium and hanging plants, presenting me with new ways to look at ferns, specifically their foliage and the spores underneath each leaf!

Learning about orchids is a fun opportunity at The Huntington’s annual International Orchid Show and Sale!

Attending plant and flower shows gives enthusiasts and professionals alike the opportunity to get close up and personal with specimens, like this table full of various Epiphyllum hybrids.

The value of plant and flower shows for landscape professionals is they allow us all the opportunity to get really up close and personal with specimens, allowing attendees to glean knowledge for future landscape design projects and opening the doors to countless creative possibilities (Tip: I do recommend attending these shows with friends with the patience to permit enough time to study each leaf or flower obsessively).

I harbor hopes younger generations will become interested in flower and plant shows, including the more focused local events, planting the seeds to grow new horticulture communities online that might flourish into new careers and help continue the celebration of plants throughout the year, across the country, and throughout the world!

 

 

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