Olympic Sculpture Park has influenced the way I perceive the possibilities and the extent in which landscape architecture can be experienced by the public, from its dynamic collection of sculptures, to the seasonal change of the landscaping, it is a public park filled with transitional experiences. CC photo by ericnvntr
Photo: Heejae Lee
I consider World Landscape Architecture Month as an opportunity to celebrate our profession’s storied past and promising future – a time to recognize where we began and the journey each of us will travel as we all venture onto a path leading us to continual uncharted territories of design. Within my professional career, and even academic life, I have experienced a noticeable change within landscape architecture from a social, economic, and even political perspective.
Looking forward, the future of landscape architecture looks promising, practicing during a generation when new technologies and new approaches to design offer unprecedented options and tools to ply our trade. There also seems to be a shift in both the framework as well as the fundamental theories that fuel the profession.
This brings me to an interesting collection of essays I remember reading while still in school, all written from various views and perceptions of the design fields. One essay written by Chris Reed – a Principal at Stoss – titled, “Ecology and Design: Parallel Genealogies” describes the profession of landscape architecture from previous eras, a time when the field could be categorized as either a decorative or scientific practice of planning and design. Today, landscape architecture is more than ever dependent upon dynamic and multidisciplinary frameworks geared towards a new landscape urbanism.
Photo: Heejae Lee
I believe the profession of landscape architecture is progressing well beyond decorative solutions or solely working from ecological studies. Instead the field is shaping research, social change, ecological solutions, and aiding in establishing urban networks from all angles. These new frameworks enable landscape architecture to be a catalyst for complex systems, serving a greater purpose to citizens than ever before, both shaping the environment and working to shelter various networks and ecosystems around the planet. As another Landscape Architecture Month passes, I am already looking forward to next year’s celebration to witness – and be part of – the inevitable changes to come.
“Wow, interesting. So, what exactly do you do as a landscape architect?”
This is the most common question I’m asked when I meet someone outside the architectural field. I’m never really sure how to satisfyingly answer this question (and apparently I’m not alone), since our work is multidisciplinary, and touches upon so many parts of everyone’s daily life (even if they don’t know it). Explaining the entirety of our expertise can be confusing for the layman. Sometimes it is more simple to show, rather than tell: a decorative garden, the tree-lined streets following the sidewalk, a public park, or even a college campus. Since an overhead perspective is rare, most of the time the general public will only notice a small portion of a landscape architect’s vision, but landscape architecture is all around us.
So, back to the question of, “who we are and what do we do?”.
The ASLA‘s definition – as my colleague Gary Lai noted – states our profession of 22,500 professionals in the United States has “a significant impact on communities and quality of life”, and that as a whole, “Landscape architecture services in the U.S. are valued at $2.3 billion per year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.”
The latest data, which cover up to 2012, show landscape architecture services accounted for 14 percent of total architectural services. Residential design is the largest market sector. Most of that work consists of single-family homes, but also includes multi-family and retirement communities.
Back when I was in college I never expected I would have such trouble explaining what I was studying so hard to become, but maybe that is because what I do is not just one thing, but many.
In 2013, I celebrated Landscape Architecture Month by running a Kickstarter campaign to fund my first feature film – From Sea To Shining Sea – a contemporary portrait of the USA experienced via a cross-county time-lapse video and audio collage. By watching the film, one essentially takes the journey itself, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and gains a greater appreciation for the sheer beauty of the American landscape.
I continue to look for new ways to communicate landscape via video, so I am celebrating World Landscape Architecture Month 2015 with a follow-up Kickstarter project: Hringvigur. This is envisioned as a circumnavigation of Iceland along the country’s Ring Road. If the project is successful, I plan to shoot in August 2015 and complete my second feature film by the end of the year.
March 22nd was World Water Day, an annual celebration designated in 1992 by the United Nations General Assembly in celebration and awareness of water around the globe. My social media page flickered as facts and opinions about water were posted and shared. I read, for what seemed like hours, about water consumption, water poverty, drought and flood conditions, environmental justice and so much more, filling my brain with information and drawing connections to my own behavior as a concerned citizen of this planet. World Water Day raised public awareness about global water issues.
So now what? Awareness is good as long as it is well informed and results in farsighted strategies. As designers of gardens and public spaces, our work has relevance from a water perspective.
- How do we focus our work for the challenges ahead?
- What questions should we ask when beginning our design process?
- Who do we call upon for input so that our inquiries remain well informed and at the edge?
Our expertise is discovering and revealing the essence of place. We are designers, not scientists. We cannot, after all, create water out of air. Or can we? Now that is a fun idea to explore for the landscape!
April is officially World Landscape Architecture Month. All month AHBE LAB will be exploring and celebrating the many facets of our profession, specifically the topics, ideas, and themes which influence our work as landscape architects, both locally and globally.
Photo: Calvin Abe/AHBE Landscape Architects
This photograph captured while flying over Lake Casitas, a man-made lake located about 80 mile north of Los Angeles, illustrates an interesting landscape pattern formed by the ongoing California drought. As the water level drops in the lake – at its max Lake Casitas offers a capacity of 254,000 acre ft. – we begin to see how vegetation is associated through its topography. The varying layers of vegetation is due to the mositure content of the soil, topographic elevations, and the physical soil composition. This demonstrates how nature builds an ecology that is interdependent on multiple levels.