Small but Mighty Spaces

Visitors reflected in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC image: Alexandra Hay

Visitors reflected in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC
image: Alexandra Hay

In a 2013 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), we asked members to name a space that, despite being small in size, delivered an outsize impact. These small but mighty spaces may run counter to what many initially think when they hear the word ‘landscape’—sweeping vistas, rolling fields, sprawling parks—but they nonetheless represent significant works of landscape architecture and design that are just as powerful and transformative (or even more so) as their larger neighbors. Their limited size belie their expansive effect.

The following locations were mentioned more than once, along with some of the reasons why:

Albert Einstein Memorial, Washington, DC – “Very intimate setting in an urban environment, richly detailed and high emotional impact.”

Bryant Park, New York City – “The ability to make it your own with the free chairs, its seasonal change (ice rink, open space), backdrop of the library, and the well-proportioned buffer between park and bordering buildings/roads.”

Millennium Park, Chicago – “Lots of small intimate areas within one space.”

Paley Park, New York City – “It’s a microcosm of relaxation amidst the bustle of midtown Manhattan. If you blink, you’ll walk right by it.”

Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle, Indianapolis – “Good mix of pedestrian and vehicular circulation experiences in a compact urban area.”

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC – “I saw it when I was a teenager before I was a [landscape architect], and it made me get the magnitude of loss for the war, especially because it was interactive.”

The Albert Einstein Memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC image: Alexandra Hay

The Albert Einstein Memorial outside the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC
image: Alexandra Hay

In addition to the numerous other places that were mentioned, a few interesting suggestions were also made, both for specific places or more general types of small spaces:

“A well placed park bench.”

“Entrance to the Los Angeles Library.”

“There was a little cave at Point Lobos, CA that we called ‘the navel of the universe’—it was a niche in one of those long underground channels.”

“Top of the Washington Monument.”

“The town square of America that seems to be disappearing.”

At Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC image: Shawn Balon

At Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC
image: Shawn Balon

View of the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin from the top of the Washington Monument image: Alexandra Hay

View of the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin from the top of the Washington Monument
image: Alexandra Hay

Gardens of various kinds were another popular pick:

Evening Island at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix

Durfee Conservatory, University of Massachusetts, Amherst – “It has such a compelling combination of grand, historic trees and modern materials in a relatively small space; a truly beautiful, intimate space.”

Japanese Garden at the Bloedel Reserve, Seattle

Parc de la Villette’s Bamboo Garden, Paris – “The palette is restrained but individual elements are powerful. By descending to a lower level within the overall park, one feels enveloped in an enchanted ‘other world.’”

Self-Realization Fellowship Garden, Encinitas, California

The Founders Garden, University of Georgia, Athens

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

The Roof Garden at the Kaiser Center, Oakland, California

Mrs. Whaley’s Garden, Charleston, South Carolina

Healing garden at the St. Joseph Regional Health Center, Bryan, Texas – “Safe haven for patients and staff, healing sounds, healing smells, healing views, spaces to tuck in, get away, designed with therapeutic elements throughout and evidence-based design, different experiences and textures.”

Waterfall Garden Park, Pioneer Square, Seattle – “It’s a small, hidden urban park—mostly hardscape—with a great waterfall and ‘experiential equivalent’-type sculpture. A great place to tuck away from the crowd. A hidden gem.”

WPA Rock Garden, William Land Park, Sacramento, California – “Both in historical origin as a WPA project and its modern stewardship by a noted local plantswoman.”

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens image: Alexandra Hay

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
image: Alexandra Hay

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 annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

One Response to “Small but Mighty Spaces”

  1. Three Key Favorite Spaces | The Field Says:

    […] spaces, touching on a range of landscape types, from best places to move through and linger, to small but mighty spaces and the most technically innovative designs. Across nearly all questions, three places in […]


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