Urban Design is Now a Stand-Alone Category for the ASLA Awards Program

by Thomas Schurch, PhD, ASLA, PLA

ASLA 2018 Professional Honor Award in General Design. Chicago Riverwalk | State Street to Franklin Street. Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects. / image: ©Christian Phillips Photography

The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Honors and Awards Advisory Committee has crossed an important threshold for the profession by recently acting to add urban design as an awards category for submissions of suitable work by professionals and students of landscape architecture. This necessary and welcome development commences with the 2020 ASLA awards program, which is now open for entries, and will allow our colleagues in practice and education to demonstrate to the world landscape architecture’s unique capabilities in the 21st century’s growing and rapidly changing urban realm.

In implementing this change, the ASLA Honors and Awards Advisory Committee—in partnership with the Urban Design Professional Practice Network (PPN)—concluded that in our era of urbanization the great work done by landscape architects in enhancing urban environments is deserving of focused recognition. And, of course, landscape architecture’s shaping of urban form reflects not only recent professional practice, but dates to the earliest days of the profession. This significant addition to the national awards program gives ASLA members the opportunity to be credited for outstanding work concerning urban design, urban form, and meaningful place within an urban context while implicitly reminding us of our design legacy.

Therefore, it’s not a matter of urban design being new to landscape architecture, but to underscore the profession’s ability to shape growing urban environments in the 21st century, continuing a longstanding contribution towards truly dynamic and meaningful outcomes in which quality of life, sustainability, and ecological resilience are paramount. It is largely for this reason that landscape architecture came to the fore in the 19th century, given the needs of the time. And currently, when compared with the allied professions of architecture and urban planning, whose professional associations—along with the Urban Land Institute and Congress for the New Urbanism—already identify urban design for award recognition, one can say that the needs today are more demanding and challenging than ever.

“It is significant that Urban Design has been added as a category to ASLA’s awards program. Accustomed to thinking about cities as complex spatial systems and trained to integrate environmental processes, built form and human scale, landscape architects are shaping cities across the world with their urban design skills. The new award category is an outlet for the impactful urban design work of our profession to be recognized among peers and broadcast to clients, partners, municipalities and the public.”

– Allyson Mendenhall, FASLA, Principal, Design Workshop

ASLA 2018 Student Award of Excellence in Residential Design. Baseco: A New Housing Paradigm. Julio F. Torres Santana, Student ASLA; Yinan Liu, Student ASLA; Aime Vailes-Macarie. / image: Julio F. Torres Santana, Yinan Liu, Maggie Janik (model photographer)

Previously, while awarding urban design achievement within the broader framework of the General Design category, the Honors and Awards Advisory Committee and ASLA leadership in general are now encouraging submission of the substantial and wide variety of urban design work that defines urban design practice and education in landscape architecture. As always, this work includes, but is not limited to, urban parks, public spaces, and greenways; complete and interconnected streets; mixed land use and complete communities; urban waterfronts; understanding three-dimensionality in urban form; and urban agriculture, all of which include a wide array of green infrastructure, community development, and urban revitalization.

In addition, such endeavors also reflect the profession’s understanding of human scale, public health, public safety, and dynamics of natural systems within cities, neighborhoods, districts, a host of individual sites, and connectivity through human-made and natural corridors. Therefore, and to reiterate, with urban design identified as a stand-alone awards category, landscape architects and students aspiring to be landscape architects can now be recognized for their accomplishments in the complex cross-professional world that shapes our urban environments.

In making this change to the honors and awards program, the Honors and Awards Advisory Committee and the Urban Design Professional Practice Network encourage submissions of work that will give greater recognition to landscape architecture’s approaches to realizing quality of life in the urban realm with projects that are creative, meaningful, and sustainable.

“In much of the world, landscape architects play a major role in urban design that contributes to the success of most urban projects. Thus, it is fitting for ASLA to recognize urban design excellence in this significant new awards category. It will advance the understanding of the vital leadership that landscape architects contribute to shaping our urban world.”

– Frederick “Fritz” Steiner, FASLA, Dean, University of Pennsylvania, Stuart Weitzman School of Design

ASLA 2019 Professional Honor Award in General Design. Lower Rainier Vista & Pedestrian Land Bridge. GGN. / image: GGN

“This is terrific for the profession and should have been there as a category from the beginning. We as a firm, like so many others in landscape architecture, regularly engage in work that fits the new urban design award category.”

– Dennis Otsuji, FASLA, Past President of ASLA and Principal, Wimmer Yamada and Caughey

National ASLA Award Winners: Examples of Urban Design

Professional Award Winners

Sundance Square Plaza, The Heart of Fort Worth
Fort Worth, TX
Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd.

The Bentway
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
PUBLIC WORK Office for Urban Design & Landscape Architecture

Lower Rainier Vista & Pedestrian Land Bridge
University of Washington/Seattle, WA, USA

Chicago Riverwalk | State Street to Franklin Street
Chicago, IL
Sasaki and Ross Barney Architects

Brooklyn Bridge Park: A Twenty Year Transformation
Brooklyn, NY
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.

Central Seawall Project
Seattle, WA
James Corner Field Operations LLC

SteelStacks Arts + Cultural Campus
Bethlehem, PA

Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield
Ningbo, China

Mill River Park and Greenway
Stamford, CT

Student Award Winners

Baseco: A New Housing Paradigm
Manila, Philippines
Julio F. Torres Santana, Student ASLA; Yinan Liu, Student ASLA; Aime Vailes-Macarie
Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Create a Walkable History: Editing the Historical Percorsi of Pienza
Pienza, Italy
Zhengneng (Albert) Chen, Student ASLA
University of Pennsylvania

Weaving the Waterfront
Kingston, NY
Hong Gao, Student ASLA; Luyao Kong, Student ASLA; Qianli Feng, Student ASLA
Cornell University

Urban Ecological Melody
Providence, RI
CC (Qinhe) Qian, Student ASLA
Rhode Island School of Design

Fallow Ground | Future City
New Orleans, LA
Margaret Baldwin, Student ASLA; Hannah Barefoot, Student ASLA; Alexandra Dimitri, Student ASLA; Jennifer Livingston, Student ASLA; Mary McCall, Student ASLA; Lucy McFadden, Student ASLA; Margaret Plumb, Associate ASLA; Scott Shinton, Student ASLA
University of Virginia

This effort was led by Doug Hoerr, FASLA, representing the Honors and Awards Advisory Committee, and Thomas Schurch, ASLA, Co-Chair of the Urban Design Professional Practice Network, supported by past Urban Design PPN Co-Chairs Taner Özdil, ASLA, PhD, and Keith Billick, ASLA.

The 2020 Call for Entries for Professional and Student Awards is now open. For the Professional Awards, entry fees must be received no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, February 21, 2020 and all Professional and Landmark Award submissions are due by 11:59 PST on Friday, March 6, 2020. For the Student Awards, entry fees must be received no later than 11:59 PST on Friday, May 10, 2020 and all Professional and Landmark Award submissions are due by 11:59 PST on Friday, May 17, 2020.

Thomas Schurch, PhD, ASLA, PLA (CA), is Professor of Landscape Architecture+Urban Design at Clemson University and immediate past co-chair of the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Urban Design Professional Practice Network.

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