Top 5 Iconic Spaces

Broad view with detail of canyon, horizon, and mountains above, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from the series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941-1942, documenting the period ca. 1933-1942 image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr Commons

Broad view with detail of canyon, horizon, and mountains above, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from the series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941-1942, documenting the period ca. 1933-1942
image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr Commons

At the start of 2013, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: favorite spaces. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2013, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the 2014 PPN Survey—focusing on members’ career paths in landscape architecture—see LAND‘s PPN News section.

One may not immediately associate landscapes, which are necessarily ever-changing places, with the kind of permanence iconicity implies, but there are nonetheless a few that have achieved the status of icons. These places are instantly recognizable, with deep historic and cultural connections, and they have left an indelible mark on both the history of landscape architecture and on countless individuals, who are impressed, awe-stricken, moved, surprised, and captivated by these places when visited in-person.

Of all the iconic spaces selected by our members, here are the top 5:

  1. Central Park, New York City
  2. Grand Canyon National Park
  3. The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
  4. Paley Park, New York City
  5. Yosemite National Park

But why are these spaces so great? Here are a few of the reasons why, according to our members.

1. Central Park

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

“It’s a seamless sequence of wonderfully complex spaces. You can people-watch by the Bethesda Terrace but find solitude just across the pond in the Ramble.”

“It is quiet design, for the masses, with nature, and it works. The design doesn’t scream.”

“Central Park is the heart of NYC and allows it to function without exploding! It is relaxing, intriguing, wonderfully complex, and engaging every time I visit it.”

“History, prime example of the value of open space set aside.”

2. Grand Canyon National Park

View with rock formation in foreground, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from the series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941-1942, documenting the period ca. 1933-1942 image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr Commons

View with rock formation in foreground, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, from the series: Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941-1942, documenting the period ca. 1933-1942
image: The U.S. National Archives via Flickr Commons

“It is awe-inspiring and puts humanity and our time on earth into perspective.”

“Mother nature at her best.”

“Expansive, continually changing based on the time of day and weather conditions.”

3. The National Mall, Washington, D.C.

The Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, Washington Monument, and U.S. Capitol building in the distance image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

The Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool, Washington Monument, and U.S. Capitol building in the distance
image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

“It’s grand but still intimate, and open late at night (on the exterior).”

“The National Mall, known as America’s civic stage, is one of the most significant spaces in the country. The Mall functions at many levels: as the highly symbolic visual setting of government; as part of the city’s circulation and transportation networks; as the location of many of the nation’s most prominent memorials and museums; and as the stage for national and local events, including demonstrations, festivals, sports, and other recreation.”

“Public space that is open and large. The dimensions alone afford every type of group or individual activity. Sometimes clean open space is enough. In this case being surrounded by high-quality public architecture is a bonus.”

4. Paley Park, New York City

Paley Park image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

Paley Park
image: Deborah Steinberg, ASLA

“Defined the genre; still a wonderfully intimate, refreshing space.”

“It is a small oasis in the middle of NYC, a foil in all aspects to the city environment around it. The park contains the elements of running water (to drown out the sound of the traffic) and greenery (against the grayness of surrounding buildings). The vegetation also acts as a foil to soften all of the geometry. It is a cleverly thought and implemented design.”

“When I stumbled upon this space, as a 17-year-old, it was an epiphany! I decided on the spot that I wanted to devote my life to creating elegant public spaces. I was particularly struck by how unprepossessing this small vacant lot—a lot dwarfed by nondescript buildings—must have seemed prior to the realization of the designers’ vision.”

“This park demonstrates that you don’t need a big space to create an effective respite from a dense, urban area.”

5. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park image: Alexandra Hay

Yosemite National Park
image: Alexandra Hay

“Majestic, puts nature in touch with us and where we fall within it.”

“It is so magnificent! Just the beauty and sheer scale of the space! The built environment blends well with the surroundings.”

“It has impossibly high, rocky cliffs that enclose the space. The cliffs contain iconic granite elements with names like Half Dome, Royal Arches, and El Capitan. Because of its form and depth, one can’t always see the valley from a distance, so the first view is often a surprise. Despite its grandeur, the nearly flat valley floor makes it a comfortable space. The combination of beauty and comfort has made the valley so popular that it is always in danger of being loved to death. An understanding that the valley was carved by glaciers increases one’s appreciation for its beauty. The Merced River, spectacular waterfalls, Mirror Lake, and the granite walls are reminders of the glacial past. The granite walls remind us that most of the Sierra Nevada range is underlain by rock that formed deep in the earth roughly 100 million years ago and is now exposed due to tectonic uplift and glaciation.”

More highlights from the PPN Survey will be posted every two weeks, so stay tuned!

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