The opening question of the 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) asked members to think back to their time in school to tell us about their favorite subjects to study. Though most respondents did not discover landscape architecture until later—either during college or afterwards—in many cases, their academic preferences earlier on foreshadowed their subsequent inclination to the field.
Here is the breakdown of responses, in order of popularity:
Art – selected by 32.8% of respondents
Science – 23.5%
Social Studies – 15.7%
Math – 14.6%
English – 9.5%
Music – 3.9%
It seems appropriate that art and science came out on top in a survey of landscape architects, whose practice deftly combines the two.
In 1998 Leslie Sauer Jones wrote The Once and Future Forest: A Guide to Forest Restoration Strategies. Embedded within the book’s forward, landscape architect Ian McHarg implored: “We must participate, with action and all the experience we can bring” in order to attempt to reverse environmental degradation and we can no longer expect our actions to be reversed with inaction. He further suggested that we embrace, “important havens, such as the interstices of cities” as critical canvasses for habitat enhancement and expansion for our native plants and animals.
Within our cities, large, contiguous tracts of vegetation, such as urban forests and riverfront corridors, offer critical ecological value potential. However, in more densely developed fragments of the city, where landscape design increasingly occurs, researchers are discovering that purposely selected woody plants can similarly provide animal species with viable urban habitat. Conceptualizing the ecological value of these urban interstices may be a function of perspective, or scale.
When my client, Child Development Associates, first approached me about designing an Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE) for the Barrio Logan Child Development Center, he warned me it would be one of my most challenging projects. I saw these challenges as opportunities! Together we had an opportunity to maximize space, to transform lives, and to make a statement that all children could have access to a quality OLE.
The Barrio Logan Child Development Center (CDC) is located in the urban neighborhood of Barrio Logan just south of downtown San Diego. This publicly funded program serves approximately 85 children (3-5 years of age), with the majority from low-income families in the community. The small 1,513 sf play yard (17’ wide x 89’ long), with little shade and no vegetation, sits directly adjacent to the I-5 Freeway, the heavy traffic generating a constant background noise for the students and staff at the Center. Most of the children spend 40-50 hours a week at the Center with little access to nature and open space in their community.
Developing a Plant Palette that Balances Aesthetic Control, Environment, and Ecology
Developing a plant palette for metropolitan areas that moves beyond the native and adapted plant palette is a very challenging and necessarily a very long term proposition. The vast corporate, design, regulatory, and research infrastructure that has evolved to the current state of the art will change very slowly, as it has in the past. As with any innovation, it will first be seen as radical and even eccentric and there will be many stakeholders that will push back hard against the tide of change. There are a number of possible scenarios for moving forward towards a more resilient and ecologically and environmentally supportive landscape palette.
One likely scenario for the transition to a more balanced palette is an incremental approach that gradually introduces native species, varieties, and selections into the infrastructure of the green industry. This would be an evolution of the ‘native and adapted’ palette that has been emerging since the 1980s, perhaps accelerated by climate change and the ‘new normal’ of warmer conditions with wide swings in rainfall patterns, coupled with increasing water needs from a rapidly growing population. This evolving palette will represent the same basic approach currently used by many designers for the selection of plants. Designers will search for aesthetically pleasing groupings, or drifts, of discrete monocultures that meet the practical, aesthetic, and financial criteria desired, albeit in a more environmentally and ecologically sustainable way.
Soil structure (how soil particles are held together to form larger structures within the soil) is recognized as an important property of a healthy soil. Grading, tilling, soil compaction and screening soils during the soil processing and mixing process damages structure. Structure makes significant contributions to improving root, air and water movement thru the soil. Soil screening is extremely damaging to structure but is included in most soil specifications.
Why do we screen soils and what happens if we do not? Prior to the mid 1970’s soils were rarely screened and landscape plants performed quite well. Installed soil was moved with clumps or peds throughout the stockpile. In the last 15-20 years farmers who have stopped tilling their soil have found significant improvements in soil performance. Several new research projects suggest that elimination of the screening and tilling processes in favor of mixing techniques or soil fracturing that preserve clumps of residual soil structure may improve landscape soils.
We know that all good science is based on adequate data. And if you’re reading this page, you probably also already know there is a lack of adequate data when it comes to the real-world performance of urban tree planting soils. This post is your chance to change that and add your own information to a shared database of soil performance data.
A bit of background: In 2014 we (Eric Kramer, ASLA, and Stephanie Hsia of ReedHilderbrand; Robert Uhlig, ASLA, of Halvorson Design; Bryant Scharenbroch, PhD of University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point; and Kelby Fite, PhD of Bartlett Research Labs) undertook a micro-study of seven sites in Boston — constructed urban landscape projects anywhere from 5 to 45 years old. Each project took a pro-active approach to designed soil systems, using suspended pavements, Cornell University structural soils, or sand-based soils. We took soil cores, recorded soils horizons, took lab samples and compared findings to what we knew about what had been installed. We also assessed the performance of the trees over time.
Stem girdling roots, kinked roots, J roots, T roots, and root collars buried deeply in the root package are one of the principle reasons whey trees and large shrubs fail to recover from transplanting or decline and even die at a young age after planting. These problems are typically created in the nursery by practices that do not produce plants with radial root architecture and place the root collar close to the surface of the soil. As a plant moves thru the production process from propagation to delivery at the site, there are many opportunities for root problems to develop in the plant.
Most plants are started in small containers and then gradually moved into larger containers. If the plant is sold in a container there may be three or four different container sizes. Each of these containers may result in a series of roots circling around the edges of the pot forming circling roots. Any of the circling roots above the root color can eventually choke the tree. Other roots may be deflected from the bottom of the container and grow upward to the surface forming a sharp kink in a root that may eventually become an important structural root. If these misshapen roots are not pruned at each shift in pot size they form an imprint of constricting roots in the next container. As trees are repotted they are also often placed too deeply in the next pot. Trees lined in the field may also be buried in the soil. This places the roots too deep in the soil where oxygen is less available at a critical point in the trees development.
Last year, ASLA endorsed the sustainable development goals that were launched during the U.N. General Assembly on September 25, 2015. The 17 goals—including climate action, biodiversity, sustainable cities and communities, and clean water—address the interconnected elements of sustainable development: economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection in all countries to be achieved over the next 15 years.
Later this year, another U.N. General Assembly conference will be taking place: Habitat III. This bi-decennial event has taken place previously in 1976 and 1996, and this year the third U.N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development will be held in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20.
When high-intensity rainfall events roll through cities, particularly those with combined sewer systems, peak flows increasingly overwhelm grey infrastructure, compromise water quality, and induce sedimentation and erosion. New research suggests that engineered soil and purposely selected plants within green infrastructure may help offset these flows by offering more benefit than most stormwater engineering models and municipalities acknowledge.
A handful of progressive entities – like the Chesapeake Stormwater Network and the Commonwealth of Virginia – now award extra stormwater credit for management approaches that deploy high-performance engineered soils, dense and varied planting palettes, or an inter-connected series of green infrastructure elements. More research is needed, however, to mobilize engineers, designers, and policy makers to rely more heavily on the “green” in green infrastructure.
What nature looks like, or is supposed to look like, appears to be our problem, a cultural matter; it has little to do with ecology. – Laurie Olin, FASLA
Ethics and aesthetics are the same thing. – Richard Haag, FASLA
We, as landscape architects practicing in the early twenty-first century, talk a lot about ecology and ecological design. A glance at the program from the 2014 ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver or the 2015 ASLA Professional Awards illustrates this point. As we hurdle ever rapidly toward greater imbalance between limited natural resources and a growing human population, this resurgence of ecological discourse could build much needed momentum toward widespread application of a truly ecological approach to built and managed environments.
Landscape architectural history is populated by ecologically-minded thinkers, from Jens Jensen and Ian McHarg to current practitioners and academics like Carol Franklin, Grant Jones, Bill Wenk, and Chris Reed. More and more landscape architecture firms are collaborating closely with ecologists, and some have added them to their rosters. It’s an exciting time to practice ecologically focused landscape architecture; we are on the leading edge of what may prove to be a philosophical sea change in design and planning.
So, what does it actually mean to practice “ecological design?” How are academic theories, lofty ideas, and benevolent leanings transmogrified onto the physical plane? It begins with science.
One of the opening questions of the 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)—and a good opening question for any talk with a landscape architect, as the answer is usually surprising—was: How did you discover landscape architecture? One member’s answer can serve as a concise summary of the results: “In a round-about sort of way.”
Many of the landscape architects who completed the survey did indeed take the scenic route to their current profession, and a large number said they had never heard of landscape architecture until college or later. One of the most popular answers for how they discovered the field was “by accident.”
Several other trends did emerge, however, with the most popular answer—nearly half of the responses—involving some key experience during college. Other responses focused on the impact of family and friends (approximately 20% of responses) and career research during high school (about 12% of responses).
Each year, members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) are surveyed on a different theme. In 2013, the focus was favorite spaces, and the results of that survey have been highlighted here on The Field. Now, we are moving on to the 2014 survey—the theme: career paths in landscape architecture. As you can imagine, the responses were as varied as the different trajectories taken by all those in the landscape architecture field, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND, and we are now re-posting this information on The Field. For updates on the results of the latest PPN survey, see LAND‘s PPN News section.
We received an impressive number of responses (395) to the 2014 survey from a diverse range of individuals in terms of sector, region of work, and level of experience:
The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015-2016 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN’s co-chairs and officers developed a set of 17 questions, then sought out willing landscape architects and began the interview process. The following is an in-depth look at responses to the last group of interview questions, asking what general advice they have for new landscape architects and what specific suggestions they would have for their 25-year-old self.
The result: be focused, be fearless, be engaged, be connected. It will work out; build the relationships and put as much into those professional relationships as into the practice of the profession. We are not alone in our workplaces. Use those around you to help define and determine where you want to be and work to get there. Good advice for anyone.
Many of our respondents suggested that new landscape architects be active and decisive in pursuing interests related to work focus and content and to seek out mentors and be engaged in learning from them about specific needs and aspirations. While some suggested focusing on the aspects/areas of most interest in landscape architecture, others encourage a well-rounded, more broad-based approach to the field. Be sure to do your research before reaching out to respect the time of the mentors and get involved early in ASLA and other professional societies through writing or activities to build relationships and connections in your new career.
As advice to themselves at 25, most focused on a version of ‘Relax, it’s going to work out.’ Coming in second were variations on ‘Build your relationship network with as much focus as you put on work.’
That feeling when everything about the project is moving along smoothly, and then ‘Them’ show up. Them have their own ideas and opinions. Them have their own sets of rules and guidelines that must be given adherence. If only Them would stay out of this, the project would be a smashing success and everyone, including Them, would celebrate and admire. By ‘Them’, I of course mean HOA’s (Home Owners’ Associations).
HOA’s became prevalent out of the Post-War era in the rise of Suburbia. It was the Eisenhower-an period of America. A 5-star general in the White House, and over 8 million Veterans returning to civilian life. Suburbs sprang up to house the millions of returning Veterans and their families, with communities modeled from base housing. Efficient, clean, and above all else – uniform in appearance and function. It was a simple time of mass prosperity and bright futures. So naturally, in the mindset of that post-war culture, local governance was needed to maintain the order and aesthetic of these newly created communities. Right now, if you surveyed every single professional in residential service, I would bet that the issue of HOA’s comes up for the majority.
Navigating clients, city/county ordinances, State law, contractors, and the ilk are sometimes enough to give you heart palpitations (I speak from actual experience). Throw in the local HOA demigod clipboard-wielding neighbor and you have a recipe for… well, early retirement. However, HOA’s are a reality which we must face.