Arbori(culture): Art & Ecology

An interior view of John Grade's Middle Fork installation at the Renwick Gallery image: Alexandra Hay
An interior view of John Grade’s Middle Fork installation at the Renwick Gallery
image: Alexandra Hay

The speaker at a recent event at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, was not an artist, curator, or art historian, but an arborist. Gregory Huse, Arborist and Tree Collection Manager for the Smithsonian Gardens, focused on John Grade’s Middle Fork installation in his talk, entitled “The Crossroads of Art, Nature and Ecology.” The piece consists of a tree, suspended sideways from the ceiling. Taking up the entire room, the sculpture is simultaneously massive and airy, moving slightly as visitors walk around it and shot through with light, evoking the dappled look of sunlight filtered through a forest’s leaves.

The Renwick Gallery, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, reopened in November after an extensive two-year renovation with the exhibition WONDER. Middle Fork, in addition to installations by Maya Lin, Patrick Dougherty, and Janet Echelman, is one of the nine pieces included in this exhibition, which has drawn record crowds.

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Future Viable Plant Palettes for Metropolitan Areas, Part 3

Peter Walker, FASLA, stands in front of his redesign of the UT-Dallas Campus featuring exotic turf and tree species. image: David Hopman
Peter Walker, FASLA, stands in front of his redesign of the UT-Dallas Campus featuring exotic turf and tree species.
image: David Hopman

Part 3: The National Green Industry ‘Utility’ Plant Palette

The next step forward in moving towards a better balance of aesthetics, environment, and ecology has flourished since the latter part of the 20th century with the introduction of better adapted plants by the national horticulture industry. These are the ‘workhorses’ used by landscape architects to cover large areas of ground in landscape development and to provide the structure and spatial definition desired for landscape designs. They are hybridized species of turf, groundcovers, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that are rarely indigenous to the areas where they are planted. The massive scale of the areas in the United States covered by these plants makes them the primary target for the aesthetically qualified native polycultures that are the subject of this series. Turfgrasses alone cover over 63,000 square miles—about the size of the State of Florida—and may be the largest irrigated crop in the United States. [1]

As in part 2 of this series on fine gardening, the priorities of the companies and the plant palettes they produce are revealed by examining the search functions on their websites. These websites show what the companies want their customers to look for and, significantly, what is missing from the thinking that is reflected in the plant palettes produced.

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Event Lighting Made Easy

LED lighting image: Reinders, Inc.
LED lighting
image: Reinders, Inc.

Many of us design-build practitioners occasionally find ourselves being asked by clients about providing holiday or event lighting design work, and the installations of said lighting. Recently, we had a request that spurred a challenge for us to implement lights for specimen trees. With a bit of research, we discovered some product data that might be helpful when future lighting requests arise.

Our company had a request from a client to provide decorative mini-lights for specimen trees that are located far from their driveway entrance. This also meant that it was far from any electrical outlets. With this challenge in mind, an area supplier introduced us to a really slick system for tying strings of LED lights directly into the wiring infrastructure of existing low-voltage or LED lighting systems. This allowed us to fill nearby ornamental trees and large shrubs with white or colored lights, by tapping right into adjacent cable from a path light or up-light, using quick coaxial couplers as the interface mechanism.

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2015 Annual Meeting Highlights

Educational presentations at the Children's Outdoor Environments PPN meeting. image: Chad Kennedy
Educational presentations at the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN meeting.
image: Chad Kennedy

If you missed the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN meeting at the ASLA Annual Meeting in Chicago, you missed a fantastic meeting that rivaled many of the education sessions in value and content. As has been the trend in recent years, meeting attendance exceeded that of past years and presentations have never been better. This year’s meeting began with a surprise mini-birthday celebration for Nilda Cosco, PhD, Affiliate ASLA. She and Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA, were kind enough to make the trip to join us over her birthday weekend, so we took that opportunity to show our appreciation by singing happy birthday and presenting her with a cupcake and birthday crown.

Short Presentations: 

After this brief introduction, the meeting began with presentations by four fantastic speakers on a variety of children’s open space topics ranging from public engagement of youth, to research projects, and even to controversial topics like risk in the play environment. Below is a list of the speakers and the specific topics each of them addressed. The presentations used by each of the speakers can be found on our PPN Resources page for those interested in learning more about what was shared.

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The 2016 HALS Challenge

Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village, HALS CA-42, Simi Valley, CA image: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection
Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village, HALS CA-42, Simi Valley, CA
image: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was created in 2000 to document our country’s dynamic landscapes. Much progress has been made in identifying cultural landscapes but more is needed to document these designed and vernacular places.

We are pleased to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 2016. The NHPA is a cornerstone of American historic preservation. It was created in the belief that too many important historic places were being lost to post-World War II development and construction, and that the federal government could (and should) play an important role in protecting places that embody the United States’ cultural heritage.

For the 7th annual HALS Challenge, we invite you to document National Register listed landscapes from your region of the country. Authorized by the NHPA, the National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Currently there are 90,540 total listings with 1,752,995 total contributing resources. Many of these listings represent or include landscapes. Search for National Register listings in your area here.

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Ruminations on the ASLA 2015 Annual Meeting

image: Bob Oberdorfer
image: Bob Oberdorfer

…In which our two intrepid correspondents wander the shadowy conference center halls of Chicago on a not-so-blustery autumn weekend to bring you, our faithful readers, these incisive observations from the front lines of the national conclave of landscape architects!  

To that end, Ecology + Restoration PPN Communications Officer Devon Santy and yours truly (that’s me) attended a full slate of educational sessions—in between forays into the local speakeasies and blues clubs, of course. But before I venture further into that synopsis, allow me to digress slightly. As I sat at my paper-strewn desk and pecked out the introductory words you have just read, the first term that came to mind for our recent gathering was not “conclave,” but rather “confab.” Not wanting to alienate any aspiring etymologists in the crowd, though, I decided I’d better consult Messrs. Merriam and Webster to verify the applicability of the term. My gut feeling was right: “confab” refers to an intimate, informal, private conversation, which does not technically apply to the largest gathering of landscape architects in the world.

However, another “con-” word that popped up alongside was “confabulation,” which offered intriguing possibilities for various metaphors that could be applied to the situation at hand. It seems “confabulation” implies a form of mental manipulation, defined as the product of “distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intent to deceive” (with additional thanks to Messrs. Wiki and Pedia for that particular interpretation of the word).

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Three Key Favorite Spaces

Paley Park in New York City image: RomanK Photography via Flickr
Paley Park in New York City
image: RomanK Photography via Flickr

In a 2013 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), the questions focused on the theme of favorite 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 particular appeared most frequently: Central Park, the National Mall, and Paley Park. Below, we highlight comments from our members on what sets these locations apart, helping to pinpoint why these three spots appeared with such consistency in response to a variety of prompts.

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Urban Design and Tree Planting Spaces

Failed project with inadequate soil volume and tree grates image: James Urban
Failed project with inadequate soil volume and tree grates
image: James Urban

Trees are important to the composition of urban design proposals. Drawings and sections show healthy, mature trees lining streets and punctuating plazas. There is an unspoken conclusion that a street without trees is not a complete street. Yet there is a critical component missing from most of these renderings.

Drawings almost always show the tree magically rising out of the ground plane with no means of support. Typically the sidewalk paving is shown right up to the trunk of the tree, the critical swelling of the trunk flare at the base of each tree above ground is not drawn. Also unspoken is the assumption that the trees will somehow find rooting space. The messy details of how the tree grows are left to the next phase of the design process. To be fair, urban design drawings, particularly the ubiquitous “typical” sections, also omit the building and light pole foundations. These omissions in the beginning of the planning process are to be added as the project moved forward. It is reasonable to assume the engineers and architects will put foundations under buildings and light poles, unseen structures typically built into the very first cost estimates. But sadly and all too often, the tree’s requirements and cost are ignored throughout the entire process.

There are two basic elements of the tree that urban designers must incorporate into their drawings, reports, and cost estimates. These are (1) sufficient soil volume to support the size tree expected to grow and (2) acknowledging the structural requirements of the tree where it meets the ground.

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