Exploring Landscapes at the National Building Museum

image: Alexandra Hay
image: Alexandra Hay

Earlier this month on March 12, visitors to the National Building Museum in Washington, DC were greeted by an usual sight in the museum’s monumental Great Hall: a life-size plan of a garden, being artfully arranged and re-arranged by visitors of all ages.

Even more impressive was the view from the second story, which provided a better sense of the overall plan from above, and how it relates to the experience of walking the space down below. By bringing a plan drawing to life and making it interactive, the event gave participants a chance to experience and understand more fully how the plan drawings landscape architects create translate into actual spaces—a chance to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D.

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Play as Panacea, Part 2

Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas image: Jody Horton
Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas
image: Jody Horton

Part 2: Transforming Lives & Communities

Healthcare Environments

The importance and effectiveness of outdoor therapy, play, and immersion in nature has been widely embraced in recent years and continues to gain prominence in the healthcare industry. As noted nearly 20 years ago, patients are less likely to exhibit signs of depression especially where access to natural light and opportunities for physical exercise are present [1].

One hospital network in Central Texas, Seton Healthcare Family, has eight major facilities in the region and all include some form of healing garden [2]. The 3-acre healing garden at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas—a leading pediatric hospital that was the world’s first LEED Platinum for Healthcare project—is by far the largest of those eight and is integrally intertwined with the institution’s success. The healing garden provides patients, families, and caregivers a literal and figurative escape from the rigors of hospital life that has proven to be restorative and cherished by all. Indeed, probable outcomes from the appropriate use of nature are benefits that will more than likely be experienced in the reduction of anxiety/stress or a buffering of subsequent stressful episodes by the patients, staff, and visitors alike [3].

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GBCI to Develop a New Professional Credential for SITES

image: ASLA
image: ASLA

In a recent GBCI survey, 80 percent of respondents said that they planned on implementing SITES in their organization or practice, and 89 percent indicated interest in earning a professional credential, such as SITES-accredited professional.

Development of a new professional credential called the SITES Accredited Professional (SITES AP) is currently under way at GBCI.

The new SITES AP credential will not only establish a common framework to define the profession of sustainable land design and construction, it will also provide landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession, and will help scale and educate the market on SITES.

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Future Viable Plant Palettes for Metropolitan Areas, Part 5

Figure 1: Bush Center south Terrace on opening day in 2013 image: David Hopman
Figure 1: Bush Center south Terrace on opening day in 2013
image: David Hopman

Part 5: Lessons from the Bush Presidential Center: Local Consultants and Urban Prairies

The G. W. Bush Presidential Center landscape is a good point of departure for a discussion of a variety of strategies for future viable plant palettes, as there were three relevant strategies employed for selecting plant species:

  1. Using local consultants to check species for regional appropriateness,
  2. Recreating a local prairie ecosystem in an urban context using ecological restoration consultants, and
  3. Using an aesthetically qualified native polyculture.

The Bush Center is a 23-acre campus near downtown Dallas that features four distinctly different plant palettes. Almost the entire campus, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., was designed with sophisticated sustainable strategies. A small internal Rose garden, however, uses a more traditional green industry plant palette and demonstrates a good balance of a small area of resource-intensive exotic species within a large, biologically diverse, resource-efficient landscape—with many species of native plants.

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Better Block is Urban Design

The first Better Block project in Dallas, Texas 2010 image: Jason Roberts
The first Better Block project in Dallas, Texas 2010
image: Jason Roberts

At first, Jason Roberts may appear to be an unlikely ally and friend to landscape architecture professionals. But, for many designers, urbanites, and community activists, that is exactly what he has become. Although he has worn many hats as a musician, IT consultant, and restaurateur, beginning in the early 2000’s, Jason has found what appears to be his true calling: the role of an Urban Activist. Over the past decade, beginning with his home town of Oak Cliff, TX, Jason stopped waiting for others to transform his community. Among various other initiatives, he founded the Oak Cliff Transit Authority and Bike Friendly Oak Cliff in an effort to give his town an operable streetcar and a foothold for a non-recreational cycling community.

Jason and his friends have also collaborated with UT Arlington for various community based initiatives in North Texas while Better Block sponsored demonstrations have spread across the US and beyond. In recent years, their grassroots activities and temporary installations through Better Block continue to transform streets, neighborhoods, and cities across the US. The following post is a snapshot to where Better Block, landscape architecture, and urban design intersects.
-Taner R. Ozdil, Ph.D., ASLA, Associate Professor at UT Arlington, Urban Design PPN Chair

The Better Block Project
by Jason Roberts

The Better Block project started in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas in 2010 when we gathered a small group of neighbors together and rapidly transformed a blighted block of partially vacant storefronts into a European inspired, vibrant corridor.

Our team took the wide street and painted bike lanes, added café seating, painted bright facades and murals on the buildings, and installed temporary businesses like coffee houses, art galleries, and locally made curio shops. We filled the sidewalks with fruit stands, flowers, sandwich board signs, and strung lights between the buildings. After everything was laid out, we began posting the zoning and ordinance rules we were breaking in order to make the place come alive so that everyone would recognize that many of the things that made our street great were illegal or cost prohibitive.

I created the project out of frustration with the typical planning process, and the helpless feelings I had when attempting to get livable and walkable initiatives started in my neighborhood. We had attended so many meetings with experts that had us lay out post-it notes on large maps with our ideas on what should be included in a vibrant street.

Our notes would lead to elaborate watercolor drawings and 3D overlays of how great our new blocks could look. But every time, these plans would sit on shelves or the final development would be bastardized in a way that veered so far from our notes that we became cynical and distrustful of the process itself. Beyond this frustration was the idea that the great place we desired would take us 30 years to build… but we wanted a great place now.
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Play as Panacea, Part 1

Riverstone’s Big Adventure Park image: Jody Horton
Riverstone’s Big Adventure Park
image: Jody Horton

An Associate in the Houston office of TBG Partners, Jeff Lindstrom is a landscape designer and project manager with in-depth experience in the areas of nature-based play and environments emphasizing education and childhood development. He has a strong interest in designing spaces that elicit full engagement—physical, cognitive, social, and emotional—and support whole child development. He maintains involvement in many organizations—including the Children & Nature Network, Texas Children in Nature – Houston Collaborative, World Forum Foundation, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America—and has attended a variety of conferences focused on play, childhood development, and related issues. Jeff is a University of Wisconsin – Madison alumnus.
–Meade Mitchell, PLA, and Brenna Castro, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer

Part 1: Transforming Lives & Communities

Researchers and experts in childhood development have long recognized the tremendous impact outdoor play and interaction with nature can have on health and well-being. As this appreciation for the power of play continues to be more widely embraced by mainstream audiences, beneficial impacts far beyond physical health have risen to the fore—with multifaceted outcomes and unique applications demonstrating the power of play in distinctly different environmental contexts. Play is increasingly becoming an integral component, and frequently a key driver, of development projects, and while characteristics of play environments often vary dramatically from one realm to another, the efficacy of prioritizing play is serving to transform the design and development of physical spaces—as well as longstanding attitudes by development decision-makers. Play environments were for many years viewed as a nonessential, a line-item consideration fulfilled by uninspired, off-the-shelf, manufactured play equipment lacking creativity. But fortunately, as Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a-changin’.

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Bridge Park as Community Gateway

Rendering of the planned 11th Street Bridge Park, in Washington DC image: courtesy of OMA and OLIN
Rendering of the planned 11th Street Bridge Park, in Washington DC
image: courtesy of OMA and OLIN

A multi-million dollar elevated park spanning the Anacostia River is planned to link neighborhoods in the District of Columbia. This project will use existing infrastructure to support a new landmark called the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Washington DC, our Nation’s Capital, is a city of around 650,000 people, 76,000 of whom live within two miles of this project. This city is located at the convergence of two large rivers: the Anacostia and the Potomac. The Potomac River serves as the southwestern border, with the Anacostia River cutting the District in two. Bridges over the Anacostia River have existed for over two hundred years. At this location six bridges have existed, but none were dedicated to pedestrians.

Creating pedestrian bridges is not revolutionary. In fact, pedestrian bridges are being planned all over the country, like the South Side Lake Shore Drive pedestrian bridges in Chicago. This project will connect the Bronzeville neighborhood to the lakefront, linking this community with its adjacent waterfront.

The plan for the 11th Street Bridge Park is not just another pedestrian bridge, but an elevated park and more. The plan is to create a larger relative of the existing Potomac River Waterfront Park, located in Maryland, which spans I-95, the busiest interstate in the United States. This park’s design was led by Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, Inc. (JMT) and was completed in June 2009. More information about the park’s design can be found on JMT’s Riverfront Park Design webpage. The Riverfront Park is similar to the 11th Street Bridge Park in that they will both be elevated and connect pedestrian networks, but that is where their similarities end.

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Taking Transformed Spaces Indoors at New Partners for Smart Growth

Top: Park Your Thoughts, Sponsored by Toole Design Group and City of Portland's Urban Design Studio Bottom: Tactical Engagement, Sponsored by PlaceMatters image: Shawn Balon
Top: Park Your Thoughts, sponsored by Toole Design Group and City of Portland’s Urban Design Studio
Bottom: Tactical Engagement, sponsored by PlaceMatters
image: Shawn Balon

This February, in Portland, OR, the New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) conference hosted a unique set of communal spaces that have become a tradition of the conference. Parklets 4.0 was the fourth annual initiative to bring the urban green space movement indoors.

Parklets are parking space-sized areas used for recreational, community gathering, or beautification purposes that assist in bringing awareness to the quantity of community space that is devoted to parking rather than vibrant urban green space. These small urban parks are created by replacing a parking spot with a variety of elements (planters, trees, benches, café tables and chairs, artwork, bicycle parking, and more!). Parklets evolved from an annual event where citizens, artists, and activists collaborated to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. Following the success of the first 2005 intervention, Park(ing) Day has grown into a global movement. Now Parklets are being permanently installed in cities throughout the U.S.

Led by ASLA and the Local Government Commission (LGC), the Parklets project at NPSG, once again, included interactive spaces showcasing how a parklet can transform an under-utilized parking space (or two) into exciting opportunities for creating more vibrant spaces in communities. This year, five parklet installations spanned the area outside conference session rooms. The parklets were sponsored by local organizations and design firms involved in designing and advocating for urban green space throughout the country. Plant materials were graciously donated by J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
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Information Modeling… “Are we there yet?”

View of a Revit model with limited landscape features image: Matthew Wilkins
View of a Revit model with limited landscape features
image: Matthew Wilkins

Imagine a design and documentation process where you make changes and the plans, sections, cost estimates, details, and 3d visuals get automatically updated and are instantly communicated with the project team.

Let me introduce you to information modeling or, most notably, building information modeling (BIM). According to the Landscape Institute:

“BIM is an integrated process built on coordinated, reliable information about a project from design through construction and into operations. It will help improve coordination, enhance accuracy, reduce waste, and enable better-informed decisions earlier in the process.”

It is key to note that information modeling (IM) is a process. In theory this is not related to any specific program and may be expanded to include various workflows and tools to leverage information and foster greater collaboration in the design and documentation process. BIM is currently the working norm for architects who have proven that the information modeling process can help better inform design, communicate with the design and construction team, and be used throughout the life of a building.

To date, landscape architects have had little involvement in the IM process and have yet to embrace it. However, is it because of the software, process, or something else? I guess the main question is, are we as a profession there yet?
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The Sunset Headquarters Landscape

image: Gordon Osmundson
image: Gordon Osmundson

The Sunset Headquarters landscape, in Menlo Park, California, was originally designed by Thomas Church, with a building by designer and developer Cliff May. The property is historically significant for its building and landscape; however, it is just as important for its association with the magazine and publishing company. Still popular as a publisher today, its place as a tastemaker in post-WWII California and the Western United States cannot be disputed. I regret to say that the property has been sold and Sunset has moved out. Some sources assure us the property won’t be changed very much, but I am skeptical of this claim, given property values in the South Bay. At least there is documentation of the property, which will reside in the Library of Congress as a result of documentation produced for the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) for the 2015 HALS Challenge competition.

I’ve looked forward to each year’s HALS Challenge. I find it’s a timely spur to pursue the very satisfying and in-depth exploration of a significant landscape. Digging in to a landscape design, so to speak, gives me an excuse to spend time understanding a place—how it was designed, where it fits in our history of landscape architecture, what it meant to people at its creation, and what it means to us now. What I learn each year continues to resonate long after I am finished with the project.

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