I once read an article where someone had said that landscape architecture could be the greatest of the art forms because it is capable of engaging all five of the human senses. I would add that landscape architecture can also evoke another powerful human sense – that of memory. I often hear stories from people about how the scent of a particular flower, the visual-tactile space created by a certain tree canopy, or the taste of a certain vegetable from the garden can powerfully transport them to another place or time.
During my first studio class in the MLA program at UW (University of Washington, Seattle), the first assignment I was given was to describe a personally meaningful landscape. Most students described a favorite backyard – a beloved parents’ or grandparents’ yard where they felt safe, where memories of made-up games with siblings or cousins and celebratory picnics with family happened. My description was of the deafening, terrifying edge of Niagara Falls in upstate New York.
I was born in the City of Niagara Falls and my family frequently traveled to the city when I was a young child to visit family and friends. We always visited the city’s namesake natural feature. The pathways and security railing allowed people to get close enough to the thunderous roar of the waterfall so that you could feel the ground vibrate as the enormous amount of water rushed over the falls, falling down almost 200 feet. I readily recall that powerful landscape experience. This memory connects me not only to that specific place, but also to other memories of extended – and now dwindling – family and history experiences of the area.
As a landscape architect I strive to make meaningful places for entry, connection, rest, enjoyment, and recreation. My goal is to create places that are useful and beautiful, places that evoke memories too…hopefully sans the terror of a powerful waterfall.