2017 SPOTLIGHT Mini-Series Recap

From left to right: images from presentations by Elyana Javaheri, Associate ASLA, Bridget Ayers Looby, Associate ASLA, SITES AP, Tricia Keffer, Student ASLA, and Rachel Katzman, Associate ASLA

The 2017 Student & Emerging Professionals SPOTLIGHT mini-series concluded last week, with two webinars presented live on August 23 and 24. These opportunities for attendees to earn professional development hours (PDH) featured four presentations, two per webinar, by Student and Associate ASLA members, providing access to forward-thinking topics and discussions. Our presenters were selected after responding to a Call for Proposals earlier this year, providing an outline of their presentations and a portfolio of their work.

Over the past two months, the presenters worked with Professional Practice Network (PPN) mentors—volunteers from ASLA’s PPN leadership teams—to create their presentations for the SPOTLIGHT mini-series. Below, we recap  highlights from each. These presentations were also recorded, and are available for viewing through ASLA’s Online Learning website. The recordings are free for Student ASLA members to view; special discounts apply for full and Associate ASLA members.

First, we’d like to thank this year’s PPN mentors:

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Trends We Could Do Without

A bike path in need of some help
A bike path in need of some help. Poor maintenance was one trend ASLA’s PPN members would like to resolve. / image: Alexandra Hay

While some of the best designs are the result of transcending whatever style happens to be in fashion, there are some trends that are pretty much unavoidable if you take a look at more than a handful landscape architecture projects. To see which of these recurring themes have overstayed their welcome, we asked Professional Practice Network (PPN) members: What trend in landscape architecture annoys you the most?

Though some respondents have had enough of designers’ tendency to wear all black or the conflict of “deciding between RLA or PLA on [my] signature,” the most frequently mentioned trend was the ubiquity of “sustainability.” Members highlighted the frequent overuse or misuse of the word when applied to “shallow sustainability,” and the fact that it’s nothing new for landscape architects:

“Sustainability—was trained to do that 40 years ago! Not a new term!”

“Sustainability—creating the world smartly; what we have been doing forever.”

Other responses that appeared more than once include:

Geometric designs, including stripes and “contemporary gardens with lots of square corners that photograph well.”

Green roofs, green walls, and “GREEN anything.”


Loss of horticultural expertise.

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An Interview with Lolly Tai, FASLA

Reprinted from The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design by Lolly Tai. Used by permission of Temple University Press. © 2017 by Temple University. Aquatic Exploration Chicago Botanic Garden Regenstein Learning Campus.

An Interview with Lolly Tai, PhD, RLA, FASLA, author of The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design

Lolly Tai is a very busy person. In addition to serving as Professor of Landscape Architecture in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University and maintaining a landscape architecture practice, Lolly is the recipient of many awards, has authored numerous articles, wrote the highly praised 2006 book Designing Outdoor Environments for Children, and is author of the newly released 2017 book The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design.

Published in 2017 by Temple University Press, The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design is a must-have book, and this is not just for landscape architects, students, and designers. Anyone who interacts with and cares about children—parents, grandparents, childcare staff, teachers, and therapists—will reap innumerable benefits and inspiration from reading this gem of a book. It is a rare book that crosses over between textbook and general interest book, and this is one. Landscape architecture and design students will be inspired by the case examples. The general public now has a guide for must-visit children’s gardens, because as we all know, letting children do what they do best—engaging in spontaneous play, learning, and exploration—can happen in an outdoor space designed just for them.

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Data + Design: Measuring a Landscape’s Value

Little Sugar Creek Greenway extends over 15 miles and traverses 17 neighborhoods, passing through urban, suburban, and rural areas. This development is projected to spur substantial growth in the surrounding community of Charlotte, North Carolina. / image: LandDesign

Today’s landscapes are asked to perform much more than functional or aesthetic services: they filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve human health, and more. As projects become more complex, and clients aim higher to meet today’s climate challenges, the use of performance metrics is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Why use data?

While the design of green space and lush plantings seems inherently ecologically beneficial, quantifying the actual value of those benefits is a little more complex. This barrier makes it challenging as we advocate for high-performing landscapes. Meanwhile, the drawbacks of initial cost and maintenance are seen as barriers to the development of more green space. This is where landscape performance metrics are valuable; using data to estimate the positive benefits of design elements and ensuring a landscape performs to the anticipated standards. Data allows us to quantify the benefits of a designed landscape, and provides hard evidence for a client trying to balance a project’s budget, schedule, and demands.

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ASLA Diversity SuperSummit Report & Resources

Participants map ASLA’s future efforts. / image: EPNAC.com

ASLA Diversity SuperSummit Report Released and Summit Resources Available on ASLA.org

In 2013, ASLA convened its first Diversity Summit with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of why landscape architecture is failing to attract a more diverse profile. Each summit has brought together a group of established and emerging landscape architects who identify as African American or Latinx to develop strategies that address diversity issues in the field.

Five years later, the 2017 Diversity SuperSummit convened the largest group of attendees to date, with 23 returning and six new participants, at the ASLA Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, D.C. Participants evaluated goals from previous summits, developed focus areas for four key diversity initiatives to guide ASLA’s work plan in the coming year, and discussed the future of the Diversity Summit format and participants.

ASLA is excited to share those conversations in the ASLA Diversity SuperSummit 2017 Report. The takeaways in the report will serve as accountability for ASLA and as an actionable guide for the newly created Career Discovery and Diversity position for the upcoming year. It can also serve as a guide for other organizations pursuing the same goal. For a summary of the full report, check out the ASLA Diversity SuperSummit 2017 Summary.

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Next Big Things in Landscape Architecture

ASLA 2016 Student General Design Honor Award. Bendway Park / image: Eric Arneson, Student Affiliate ASLA, Academy of Art University

When we asked Professional Practice Network (PPN) members about the next big thing in landscape architecture, some were too cautious to speculate about the future, answering with “I have no idea,” while others had a decidedly more self-confident answer ready: “Me.” A few members took issue with the question itself, feeling the focus on what’s next to be misguided—the next big thing in landscape architecture is “realizing we shouldn’t be looking for ‘the next big thing’ but should be paying attention to the little things.”

Given that there is so much happening right now that deserves our attention, imagining what the future may have in store is nonetheless an interesting (and pretty fun) exercise. One statement summed up a central theme of the majority of responses: “Landscape Architecture IS the next BIG THING!”

Highlighted below are the key topics that appeared most often, outlining the next big things to look out for in landscape architecture. Keep in mind these responses are from 2015—let us know in the comments what’s come up since then as the latest next big thing.

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Join us for the Student & Emerging Professionals SPOTLIGHT Mini-Series

Mark your calendars for two upcoming opportunities to earn your professional development hours (PDH) with ASLA’s Student & Emerging Professional SPOTLIGHT mini-series! Each is a two-part presentation, providing access to forward-thinking topics and discussions.

Earlier this year, ASLA launched the Call for Proposals, giving Student and Associate ASLA members the opportunity to work with Professional Practice Network (PPN) mentors to create presentations for the SPOTLIGHT mini-series. Please join us later this month to view the selected presentations!

Transitional Landscapes & Tactical Mycelium

Wednesday, August 23 at 3:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m. (Eastern)
FREE for Student ASLA, $20 for Associate ASLA, $30 for ASLA members, $60 for non-members


  • Elyana Javaheri, Associate ASLA
  • Bridget Ayers Looby, Associate ASLA, SITES AP

PPN Mentors:

  • David Cutter, ASLA, Campus Planning & Design PPN Co-Chair
  • Laura Tenny, ASLA, Campus Planning & Design PPN Co-Chair
  • Kenneth Hurst, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer and Incoming Co-Chair

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Mud and Dirt Play: Embracing the Mess

Children and mud—a perfect pair. / image: Antonio Esposito (public domain)

Few activities inspire more nostalgia than the beloved childhood pastime of splashing, running, and squishing in the mud, free of rules and inhibitions. For children and young-at-heart adults, playing in the mud is just plain fun, with a feeling of mischievousness that comes with making a mess. But for children, all that fun also benefits their physical, emotional, social, and mental growth in a variety of ways. When designing outdoor environments that support children’s development, we can promote mud play by creating flexible spaces and by supporting programming efforts such as International Mud Day—and by worrying a little less about the mess.

Benefits of Muddy, Messy Play

Mud play is more than just a fun activity that gets kids outdoors and away from computer screens. Some benefits of messy play, and ways for adults to encourage and support it, are discussed here and we will further examine some of the play-related benefits that mud play can support.

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The Evolving Practice of Ecological Landscape Design

View of the roof gardens and courtyards at the US Coast Guard Headquarters, Washington, DC. / image: Kelly Fleming

A trend is emerging within the profession that expands our approach to planting design and the role of vegetation. Designers are backing away from the role of curator of gardens where plant species are selected and placed according to a theme in a created setting, without regard to how that species may be predisposed to behave in the setting. Instead, they are adopting the role of steward to a set of naturally occurring processes that govern the development of plant communities. An understanding of ecological principles to guide the design, planting and maintenance of landscapes, and reliance on an adaptive management process based on observation and recalibration will result in landscapes that will take less energy and resources to maintain and provide the greatest environmental benefits.

The study of landscape ecology has had a significant impact on the way landscape designers and planners think about open space and connectivity at the regional scale, and has led to the promotion and implementation of green infrastructure to provide cost-effective systems that protect and restore natural resources. Green infrastructure is crucial to combating climate change, creating healthy built environments, and improving our quality of life. The shift towards green infrastructure in the design and implementation of the built environment has opened a window through which landscape designers can employ ecologically-based strategies. It will be necessary for landscape designers to build a body of knowledge based on the principles of ecology. The revelatory book by Travis Beck, The Principles of Ecological Landscape Design, is one of the foundations of this expanding body of knowledge.

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