Posts tagged landscape architecture

Aerial view of Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green, showing greenery, paths, and a pond, surrounded by buildings. Photo by Dronepicr/Wikipedia (CC BY 3.0).

During an open house event for a park this weekend, I noticed a gentleman grew disinterested speaking to me while I was responding to his questions when he realized I was “just the landscaper”. Despite AHBE Landscape Architects being the lead firm responsible for designing the park, the man wanted to talk with an architect. The interaction made me realize any talk about the future of the profession of landscape architecture seems premature today, considering how little the general public or even our peers in the A/E industry, know about our profession.

However, all things evolve, even landscape architecture. When landscape architects talk about the future of the profession, we are talking about how landscape architecture has been practiced and perceived over the last 150 years versus how we believe it should be practiced over the next 150 years.

Traditional landscape architecture primarily concentrates on aesthetics – more specifically, the idealized English country garden aesthetic our “Father”, Frederick Law Olmsted, imported to the United States through his design of Central Park in New York City. This pastoral aesthetic has since dominated how Americans build parks, cities, and our own residences across the country. Unfortunately, in our effort to achieve this idealized vision, landscape architects have forced the aesthetic into environmentally incompatible locations. For example, in Southern California we expend a vast amount of resources to maintain a northern European-style landscape comprised of lawn grasses, herbaceous shrubs, flowering northern latitude woody plants, annuals, and bulbs. This type of landscaping requires a great deal of water, fertilizer, specialized equipment, specialized irrigation equipment and a myriad of soil amendments to install and maintain.

Fast forward to 2018 and landscape architectural design has slowly evolved to take into account the amount of effort and resources necessary to maintain our landscapes. We have become more sustainable, and consequently, more deliberate and scientific in our approach to design.

The future of landscape architecture will demand we use our knowledge of living systems to create environments that reduce or eliminate the use of natural resources, while still creating places of value and beauty for humankind. For example, planting a native California landscape locally naturalizes to our climate, expending a fraction of the resources required to maintain the landscape. Native plants would also be regenerative to the local environment by creating habitat for local wildlife. The challenge is getting native plants to survive in our urbanized environments, while also imagining aesthetic value for the public.

For decades, landscape architects have been regarded by the A/E community as a second-tier profession that did not provide essential services for humanity (as my friend likes to say, we are “hair and makeup”). Even though we have always fought for relevancy using ideas of “nature” and “beauty” as essential elements to design, Americans in particular have always thought of buildings, bridges, and roads as more essential. In a way, the criticism carries some truth, noting landscape architects have tended to only represent nature and beauty in an idealized form, regardless of the impact to the surrounding environment. As we run out of resources and push our planet to the edges of human habitation, landscape architects must change to incorporate the natural sciences into our designs. Designing natural/living systems become an essential requirement of our profession. Of course the irony here is the dire circumstances of climate change will push landscape architects to the forefront of the design world, delivering us the legitimacy we have always craved.

The LA Design Festival
The LA Design Festival honors our city’s rich design culture and celebrates our status as a global design capital. Our definition of design is purposely broad to ensure that our festival is reflective of LA’s diversity and talent. Now in its 8th year, the Festival is the only citywide festival of its kind, featuring over 50 events throughout LA. From architecture and interiors to graphic, industrial, fashion, set, costume, and experiential design, the LA Design Festival showcases the best of the local design scene as well as some exciting national and international voices.
When: June 7-10
Where: Various venues

Chief Design Officer Christopher Hawthorne on Housing in LA with Barbara Bestor, Julie Eizenberg, and Jimenez Lai
Join LA’s newest (and first) Chief Design Officer, Christopher Hawthorne, in a keynote conversation exploring Housing in LA. Christopher will be joined by Barbara Bestor, Julie Eizenberg, and Jimenez Lai. This event is free, but RSVP is required.
When: June 8, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Where: ROW DTLA, 777 Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90021

“The Longest Straw” Screening at the Los Angeles Eco-Village
“The Longest Straw draws a connection between the water that supports a city and that water’s source. Samantha Bode, director, moved to Los Angeles and immediately fell in love with the abundant sunshine, the warm air, and the exotic plants of Southern California. But, she noticed within the city of Los Angeles the plants were very much like her native North East Pennsylvania. Green grass and tall trees grew everywhere, but there was no obvious source of water and it rarely ever rained. Where did all the water come from?”
When: June 8, 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Where: Los Angeles Eco-Village, 117 Bimini Place, Los Angeles

Mountain Lions and More
Join us for Mountain Lions and More: Discovering Wildlife in Los Angeles. Wildlife photographer Johanna Turner and Tim Martinez from the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy will speak about their work understanding and protecting the wildlife around us. Free with admission. No registration required.
When: June 9, 10 AM – 12:30 PM
Where: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Dr, La Canada Flintridge

Balboa Strawberry Festival
LA’s only strawberry festival, the Balboa Strawberry Festival is a celebration of summer, food, and fun, held in Encino on Ventura Blvd. The Festival is centered around local residents’ love for delicious, California grown strawberries. Featuring tons of strawberry themed food and drink, plus live music, dancing, rides and games for the whole family, this is the PERFECT way to celebrate summer!
When: June 10
Where: 17019 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA 91316

All photos: Katherine Montgomery

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last: Finally, I decided to take the same approach to my pollinator garden I had once adopted for my vegetables: I watered and I weeded, after a fashion, but mostly I let it go its own way. Any number of things might have killed those caterpillars last year….Everything you touch in nature touches everything else. Even when you’re determined to do things right, there’s only so much you can control, and it’s not very much at all.

Willful Waters: “For much of its history, Los Angeles was a river city. Yet a mere 30 years ago, most Angelenos knew little about their local river, dismissing its concrete-encased trickle as a joke when they didn’t ignore it altogether. This is no longer the case. In the last decade, interest in Los Angeles’s urban river has skyrocketed.”

How Cities Can Prepare for Autonomous Vehicles: “Cities need strong policies to guide the future of automation and help communities shape powerful technologies around their goals, rather than the other way around.” These policies include reducing speed limits; continuing to invest in active modes of transit such as walking, cycling, and mass-transit; pricing curb access; and using data to create safer and more efficient streets.”

Sunkist Skies of Glory: “The ‘booster era’ of Los Angeles spanned roughly 40 years, from 1885 to 1925. Over these pivotal decades, rough-hewn and optimistic pioneering city leaders worked with creative writers, real estate barons, and artists to bring new settlers and new businesses to their dusty Wild West town. In creating a narrative to sell Los Angeles, these boosters often rewrote the city’s history and present situation to suit their idealized, European-American values.”

When Designing for Livable Cities, Resiliency and Inclusivity Go Hand-In-Hand: “The formula for the 21st Century city rising around the world, is predictable: Build a collection of sleek towers for housing, offices, and hotels; locate services, entertainments, schools, parks, walkways, and bike paths on the ground plane—then connect this healthy (read: car free) lifestyle by mass transit to the rest of the city and beyond. If you are among the high-salaried newbies looking for sanitized urbanity, you’re in the right place. But what if you’re a teacher or other essential service provider?”

Photo by Jessica Roberts

On a recent trip to a range of rock formations near the Sierra Nevada known as the Alabama Hills, I spotted a white-lined sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, pollinating outside of a gas station during the late afternoon. The moth’s size has earned it the common name of the hummingbird moth, making it an easy winged insect to spot, and its habitat range is wide. This moth is not a picky eater, and while it contributes to pollinating many different plants, its caterpillars are known to damage crops. The moths need the plants, the plants need the moths, and we desperately need them both.

The relationship between pollinating insects and plants is profound, speaking to a level of coexistence and coevolution that is truly inspiring. I usually think of moths as nocturnal pollinators and rarely catch a glimpse of them while feeding, so seeing this moth reminded me of their importance within ecosystems.

Moths are usually seen on flowers that provide landing platforms and with nectar deeply hidden. Soon after the white-lined sphinx sighting, we found ourselves amongst the iconic Joshua trees. The yucca is an example of plants totally dependent on the pollination of specific moth species. The female yucca moth (Lepidoptera, Prodoxidae) forms pollen balls using her mouthparts and then stuffs the ball into the stigmas of the various flowers she visits. Without this very intentional routine the yucca flower would not develop fruit or seed pods. During this process the female moth will lay an egg into the flower’s chamber which protects the egg while it develops. At the arrival of the newborn caterpillars the yucca will have developed seeds, which in turn become the caterpillars’ food source.

Yucca Moth (Prodoxidae) in a yucca blossom. NPS Public Domain photo.

While watching the moth I contemplated the diversity of plants and pollinators, and considered how intertwined their relationships are. The much smaller and unassuming yucca moth uses an irregular mouthpiece to pollinate the yucca, making it a critical member of the desert ecosystem. This relationship is no accident. Unlike other pollinators that unintentionally pollinate the plants they feed from, the yucca moth caterpillars need the yucca to survive – an intentional relationship that has evolved to benefit both the plant and the insect over millions of years. The yucca’s flowers provide a source of food for many different insects, ground squirrels, and birds, each owing their existence to a tiny responsive moth.

Due to rising temperatures and water scarcity in the desert the number of Joshua tree seedlings that survive and mature is decreasing, diminishing the diversity of this unique ecosystem. Joshua trees are migrating in response to their habitat warming, dropping their seeds further northward. Only time will tell whether the yucca moth is up for the move. The rest of the desert ecosystem depends on it.

The beautiful sun shade at the Wonderful Company Prep Academy in Delano, CA looks toward a large grouping of colorful water-wise trees. Designed by AHBE Landscape Architects. Photo by @Heliphoto

When I lived in Bossier City, Louisiana, I attended a few schools surrounded by cotton fields that were sprayed bi-weekly by crop dusters. Because our schools lacked air conditioning, chemicals would mingle with the warm, humid winds, and drift quietly into the classroom through open air windows of the mid-century structures or up into the stairway through crumbling Civil War buildings. The familiar and distinct scent of the insecticide alerted us of its danger. Tornadoes were ever present, so windows were limited at best, and the landscape around the school was kept to a minimum, with many a playground being simply an asphalt pad with a tetherball pole and a grassy clover dusted lawn.

Today there are over 50 million students who attend 94,000 public schools within the United States. On-going maintenance has been critically underfunded according to a study addressing the inadequate investment in school facility maintenance by Mustapha A. Bello, PhD candidate and Vivian Loftness, FAIA. Ideally the American educational system could address the woes of today’s landscape maintenance – reduced hours for staff and the lack of proper horticultural skills to get the job done right – and provide the necessary effort to train staff to create beneficial living classrooms I like to refer to as “the great outdoors”.

Many new schools are being built in Southern California, with older schools undergoing extensive remodeling. Still, for many schools districts there are too few hours and even fewer staff dedicated towards the maintenance of the landscape after the installation period. Landscape maintenance tends to become just another superficial chore rather than something integrally beneficial. Time and money once allotted for school grounds gradually shift toward more immediate and pressing issues, such as security or latest technologies. Design professionals see school landscape as life-changing environmental opportunities for learning and capable of fostering future career opportunities for hungry young minds for years after their initial creation. But, enthusiasm often slowly fades after the 90 day landscape maintenance period contract is over, and landscapes begin to take a new life of their own until the next redesign or redevelopment.

A pair of Southern California middle school front entryways screaming for additional landscaping resources. Photo by Katharine Rudnyk.

For the past 6 months, Calvin Abe, FASLA and I have represented AHBE Landscape Architects, observing on-going landscape maintenance and listening to public perception about the healing gardens located on top of a roof at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. It has been a rewarding experience for me to hear from healthcare providers and patients, as well as those who genuinely care for the garden spaces every day. Hospitals are on the forefront in recognizing how design truly affects one’s health. The facility’s landscape must always look healthy, tidy, and befitting of the original design intent, an ongoing reflection of the quality of the medical center’s services.

People enjoying the gardens at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo: @Heliphoto

How can a facility manager at a nonprofit school think just like a nonprofit hospital? When a parent drops off a student at a school and notices a disheveled entryway landscape year after year, questions whether the school has enough resources to teach and protect their child may arise. The health of a school landscape should be considered a reflection of the school’s performance. I would be curious whether students’ performances improve after a landscape has been enhanced.

Simple efforts like adding mulch for a few hundred dollars or even a few plants between the holes can really make a big difference while awaiting commitment of greater financial resources to a redesign, more thorough landscape maintenance, or other naturally enriching enhancements. As in all things educational, small efforts have a cumulative effect, and can eventually result in huge differences in creating great first impressions within young, developing minds.

The many garden spaces on top of the roof at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Photo: @Heliphoto

My educated guess would be public, private, magnet and charter schools with strong landscape maintenance initiatives would reflect a higher student and teacher performance, alongside attendance rankings. Maybe these findings would encourage school administration to invest more money into their best educational asset ever: “the great outdoors”.

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