Building a Vibrant Practice Part I

image: Biohabitats
image: Biohabitats

At the ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO in Denver last year, I attended several “Inside the LA Studio” education sessions were I was at once intrigued and captivated by the unique journey each leader took to establishing a successful landscape architecture firm. How does an emerging professional make the transition from education to practice? In particular, what are the critical elements intersecting the formation of a successful landscape architecture firm?

To learn more, the same four questions about organization, culture, vision, roots, and process was put to the leaders of successful landscape architecture firms that differed in size, structure, and culture. The responses showed a pattern of critical elements essential to building and maintaining a vibrant practice.

In general, the best firms we interviewed had a vision, refined within an area of expertise that resonated with their core values. Most developed the type of projects they wanted to work on, based on their central philosophy and didn’t stray from it, while each leader knew the limits of their expertise and actively sought to fill any void in knowledge to create a diverse team of professionals. Using a vision and passion expressed as the core theology of a firm to drive all business decisions, from client selection and project management to employee structure and affiliated professionals, was the most important element to developing a successful firm.

The three critical elements you must have to build a vibrant practice which emerged from our interviews with successful firms:

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Play Space Design Competition

Haverford Bright Futures School in Philadelphia image: Community Design Collaborative
Haverford Bright Futures School in Philadelphia
image: Community Design Collaborative

The Community Design Collaborative and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) have chosen three real-life public sites in Philadelphia—a library, recreation center, and school—for their Play Space Design Competition. They’re challenging you to transform them into play spaces that will support healthy childhoods, strong communities, and family friendly cities.

The Collaborative and DVAEYC are seeking innovative ideas from interdisciplinary team of designers, educators, and more. Sign up now! The deadline to register is November 30. To register, you just need to pick your site and identify at least one licensed professional on your team. The design competition ends with a public event in Philadelphia in March 2016 with juried awards and cash prizes ($10,000 to three teams!).

The design competition is part of Infill Philadelphia: Play Space, a partnership of the Collaborative and the DVAEYC with support from the William Penn Foundation. It’s a design initiative to explore the unexpected ways that innovative play space helps both children and communities grow. Together, we can design a more playful Philadelphia!

Competition details and registration information can be found at

Alexa Bosse, Associate ASLA, is a Program Associate at the Community Design Collaborative and presented at the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Meeting at the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago. The Community Design Collaborative provides pro bono design services to nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia, creates engaging volunteer opportunities for design professionals, and raises awareness about the importance of design in revitalizing communities.

The Role of Landscape in Green Building

Boston Children’s Museum Plaza, Boston, MA Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects image: Elizabeth Felicella
Boston Children’s Museum Plaza, Boston, MA
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., Landscape Architects
image: Elizabeth Felicella

The following research and thesis was presented to the Landscape Architecture Program at Chatham University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Landscape Architecture in April 2010. The goal of the study was to support the need to increase the landscape principles that are represented in green building certification. Buildings can be certified by the LEED Rating System and still attain none of the landscape principles deemed necessary to a healthy environment by this research.

Evaluating vegetation, site, and location-related credits achieved by LEED Certified Buildings

The green building movement is one response to the environmental impacts resulting from the built environment; it aims to reduce material consumption and waste, while improving energy efficiency and occupant health. The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System has become a base line for sustainable building in the United States.

Though LEED is increasing the number of high performing buildings, thus reducing the energy use and waste production resulting from the built environment, without a stronger focus on the exterior performance these certified buildings may not be providing the urban environment with the ecosystem services necessary for healthy cities. Douglas Farr, author of Sustainable Urbanism, points out that a shortcoming of the LEED Rating System is that the emphasis is put on just the building by stating that “a certified green building isn’t really a positive for the environment when it turns out to be surrounded by a massive paved parking lot” (2008, p. 29).

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The 2015 World Garden Show in Nagasaki

“Spirits of the Mountain” by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang and Po-Shan Chang of SWA Group designed for Taiwan Garden image: Huis Ten Bosch
“Spirits of the Mountain” by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang and Po-Shan Chang of SWA Group designed for Taiwan Garden
image: Huis Ten Bosch

One of the most prestigious flower and garden shows in the world was held last month at Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki, Japan. Now in its sixth year, the show has featured numerous renowned designers and garden makers. For 2015, the Gardening World Cup (GWC) has the theme “My Country, My Culture,” focusing on diverse regional characters and gardening approaches. The event showcases more than 40 gardens in cooperation with designers from more than 30 countries.

Selected from highly competitive submittals, the gardens were granted a full support team and implementing partners that assisted with every detail from beginning through to installation. The workmanship by Japanese contractors has consistently received accolades from designers for their relentless work ethic, high standards, and attention to detail. With such high level sponsorship, the event provides a unique opportunity for international designers to test their innovative design process and expand the boundary of garden making.

Beyond being a garden exhibition, the World Flower Garden Show is also a platform where industry professionals and garden contractors gather to forge partnerships and cater to the needs of Japanese clientele. Japanese garden masters and artists also take advantage of this opportunity in marketing their meticulous craftsmanship and sensibility to the world stage. Important figures who made this event possible include host and sponsor Hideo Sawada of Huis Ten Bosch, Brian Snow, Hitomi Urabe, Yuko Nagamura, and the planning of operation team Gardenia.

You can see more garden entries on the event website.

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WILA Interview Series: Career Changes

image: iStock © Sadeugra
image: iStock © Sadeugra

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process.

This group of questions asked the interviewees to share information about their former careers and/or job experiences prior to landscape architecture. As outlined in our first post of the interview series, most of our interviewees said they chose landscape architecture as a second or even third career. So what did they do before, and how did those experiences help lead them to landscape architecture? Did those experiences help prepare them for their new career?

What kind of other job(s), if any, did you have before/during/after your career as a landscape architect?

Sometimes our paths to success and happiness become more crooked than straight. However, as we’ve all learned, there is no shortcut to any place worth going. Life can take some pretty sharp turns, but if you’re willing to follow a new path, you may end up where you always wanted to be. I had a prior career in the television industry and whenever I meet another landscape architect they’re always interested to hear how I ended up in landscape architecture. It seems like most of the time, the other person’s path was just as crooked as mine was.

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Making Nature Play Areas That Work

image: Andrea Weber
image: Andrea Weber

Nature play has been in the news a lot in the past few years, but what does it really mean and how can you successfully introduce it into a public park setting if it is new to your organization?

Just about every type of media, from popular to professional, has covered nature play in the last few years. The benefits of nature play are well researched and the field is still growing. Those of us working on promoting nature play can thank Richard Louv and his brilliant marketing of the concept of “Nature Deficit Disorder” which, if you have read his best-selling book (Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder), you will know is a made up term cleverly designed to get the attention of the public and of professionals, about how little time our children spend in nature and what developmental costs that is having on them. It worked.

So if we know that nature play is good, and we also know that children’s exposure to nature is plummeting, how do we get kids outside, exploring nature? How does a public park agency start opening up to and implementing new ideas on play areas to support this need? The following is a case study on a project which opened in 2012 in Minneapolis, the first project built by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (Park Board) to re-shape the typical play area to integrate more nature play and how it has re-shaped play area design moving forward.

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Education and Practice at the Annual Meeting

image: Jules Bruck
image: Jules Bruck

Education and Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 4:15-5:45pm in PPN Room 1 on the EXPO floor
All members and non-PPN members are welcome to attend

This year, the Education and Practice PPN has planned a World Café style PPN meeting, and we hope you will join the conversation. The major theme of our session is the education of a young professional; an eight to ten year process in which academia takes the first 4-5 years and practice takes the second 4-5 years. How do we create conditions between both players that allows us to fully share our collective resources and strengths? At the meeting we will also share the results of our recent Education and Practice PPN Survey. In addition to the PPN meeting, the following includes a brief list of educational sessions that may be of interest to you:
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Water Conservation at the Annual Meeting

Mill Creek Ranch, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc. image: Bill Timmerman
Mill Creek Ranch, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, Inc.
image: Bill Timmerman

For those of you interested in water conservation planning and design, the 2015 Annual Meeting & EXPO in Chicago offers a diverse array of learning opportunities in both traditional areas, including storm-water management, riparian and wetland restoration, green infrastructure, as well as in emerging topics, such as natural water features and water reuse. Please find the following list of sessions that may appeal to Water Conservation PPN members and enthusiasts:

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International Practice Preview

image: IP-PPN Leadership Team
image: IP-PPN Leadership Team

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO will be November 6 – 9, 2015 in Chicago. This is a great opportunity for all current and potential future members of the International Practice Professional Practice Network (IP-PPN) to take advantage of networking opportunities and educational sessions! The world of the 21st century is becoming increasingly global in nature rather than being centered on America. Although ASLA has thousands of members, only a few hundred of us have shown an interest in international issues and work. Of these, fewer still have shown up and become actively involved.

The following events at the Annual Meeting offer rare opportunities for seasoned, as well as students and emerging, professionals, to meet to share our knowledge and make valuable connections. These connections can lead to friendships and future collaboration. We especially urge you to attend the IP-PPN Meeting on Sunday, November 8 at 9:15 AM, to share your ideas on how we can build the PPN and make it more relevant, active, and useful for all of us.

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Children’s Outdoor Environments at the Annual Meeting

ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. Water Play. Within an interior circulation of play circuits, Teardrop Park creates the conditions for children's play that feels far removed from traffic and ordinary street life. Children are able to turn the water on and off. image: Elizabeth Felicella
ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. Water Play. Within an interior circulation of play circuits, Teardrop Park creates the conditions for children’s play that feels far removed from traffic and ordinary street life. Children are able to turn the water on and off.
image: Elizabeth Felicella

Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting
Sunday, November 8, 9:15 – 10:45 AM in PPN Room 3 on the EXPO floor

Join us for our annual PPN meeting during the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago, which will provide learning opportunities with short, lively, and inspiring presentations by speakers from throughout the country who are passionate about play environments. A keynote presentation will be given by Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, from The Natural Learning Initiative. Topics and presenters for our PPN Meeting include:

Where Design Comes into Play: Designing Innovative Play Spaces
Alexa Bosse, Associate ASLA, Program Associate of Community Design Collaborative

Building Mounds. Building Play Diversity.
David Watts, ASLA, Associate Professor of Department of Landscape Architecture at California Polytechnic State University

Risky Play Elements in Play Design
Shannon Mikus, Associate ASLA, Family-scape Designer with Master of Landscape Architecture 2014

Engaging Youth in Creative Place Making
Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Principal of Rooted In Place Landscape Architecture and Consulting

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