Fire Suppression and Site Planning

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Forest fire in California
Forest fire, Klamath National Forest, CA / image: photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

As 2020 rages on, so does a record forest fire season. In the Western United States alone, over 6.6 million acres have been burned, 7,500+ structures have been destroyed, and close to 40 people have lost their lives just this year. There is mounting pressure to address what is now a yearly occurrence and landscape architects can play a key and leading role through site design.

This issue hit home for us, with some of our own employees evacuated in what were not just wilderness fires but suburban blazes as well. The problem only seems to be getting worse, with a clear need for alternative solutions to protect properties, investments, and lives moving forward.

The first way to limit exposure and susceptibility to forest fires is initial site selection and location. Americans love their freedom and often their privacy, which has led to community development right up to the fringes of nature. Local and state agencies play a huge role in where houses are sited and what codes are required to address fire danger. Do isolated or rural community developments in the West need to stop altogether, or can certain techniques and approaches be used to more safely develop these communities?

Continue reading

Climate Positive Design: Pathfinder 2.0

by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, and Paulina Tran, Affiliate ASLA

image: CMG Landscape Architecture

Climate change is front and center as the world is experiencing unprecedented natural disasters, wreaking devastating, visible impacts on our society and the planet.

CMG Landscape Architecture Principal Pamela Conrad and her team of landscape architects, environmental designers, data scientists, and tech gurus continues to advance Climate Positive Design—a movement to improve the carbon impact of the built environment through collective action. Since its launch in the fall of 2019, Climate Positive Design provides accessible tools, guidance, and resources to have a positive impact on climate change.

Pathfinder 2.0

Available on, the Pathfinder is a free web-based app that provides project-specific guidance on reducing carbon footprints while increasing carbon sequestration. Users receive instant carbon feedback and a Climate Positive Scorecard with detailed statistics that can be plugged directly into Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and design suggestions to improve carbon impacts.

Pathfinder 2.0 was released August 2020 with new features and improvements since the initial launch on September 30, 2019 that include:

  • Metric units
  • Addition of custom material, plant, and operational inputs
  • Comparison of design alternatives
  • Analysis of existing conditions
  • Understanding site impacts
  • Grading impacts
  • Existing tree impacts (cutting down trees, mulching, converting into timber and site furnishings or biochar)
  • Soil amendment or import

To learn more about Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder 2.0, register now to join us on September 30.

Continue reading

Outstanding Service: Going Above and Beyond

image: EPNAC

A vibrant community of volunteers are the heart of ASLA’s culture of collaboration: the Society is “devoted to the encouragement of volunteerism and benefiting from the expertise and creativity of members who give their time and energies to advance the Society and the profession.” The ASLA Outstanding Service Award program recognizes ASLA member volunteers who are making notable contributions to or on behalf of the Society at the national level.

In memory of the late Mary Hanson, Hon. ASLA, and her 20 years of service to the Society and profession as ASLA’s corporate secretary, each year we present Outstanding Service Awards to volunteers whose dedication goes above and beyond the call of duty. The Society could not function without the selfless work of volunteers in every chapter and at the national level.

ASLA trustees, committee and PPN chairs and members, ASLA representatives, and other volunteers involved in the work of the Society at the national level are eligible for the award.

Recipients have included:

  • 2019: David Cutter, ASLA, and April Westcott, ASLA
  • 2018: Lisa Horne, ASLA, and Thomas Nieman, FASLA

Continue reading

Safe, Secure, and Resilient: Overseas Buildings Operations

ASLA 2019 Professional Award of Excellence in Research. Site Commissioning: Proving Triple-Bottom-Line Landscape Performance at a National Scale. Andropogon. / image: Andropogon

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) will host a virtual meeting of the Industry Advisory Group next week, and the general public is welcome to attend (registration required):

OBO’s Annual Industry Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
1:00 – 4:00 p.m. (Eastern)
Register now

OBO’s Industry Advisory Group is comprised of professionals from architecture, real estate, urban design, landscape architecture, historic preservation, interior design, graphic design, construction, engineering, and facilities management. 2019-2021 members include James Burnett, FASLA, Susannah Drake, Judith Nitsch, Hon. ASLA, Carol Ross Barney, Hon. ASLA, and Marion Weiss, Affil. ASLA.

Continue reading

Extending Education through Travel, Local and Otherwise

by Lisa Casey, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP BD+C

Sketch of street art in Deep Ellum, Dallas
Street art in Deep Ellum, Dallas / image: Lisa Casey

During a student visit to the landscape architecture firm OvS in Washington, D.C., one summer day many years ago, the strongest impression came from hundreds upon hundreds of slides from images of van Sweden’s travels in Europe all perfectly organized in a room. Travel is often touted as an educational tool in the profession of landscape architecture, but exactly how to benefit from it is often left unexplained. In a series of essays on The Art of Travel the philosopher Alain de Botton takes a critical eye to these aspects of travel. One essay in particular on “Possessing Beauty” reveals a connection between touring and creative work.

De Botton observes that after experiencing a moment of beauty, inspiration, or truth, it is a naturally human impulse to want to keep it and to give it a sense of respect within our life. One option is to take a photograph with our phone, but such a casual tool often fails to capture the essence of what we found so uniquely inspiring in that moment. Another option is to purchase a postcard, tchotchke, or T-shirt. De Botton draws on the perspective of the nineteenth century British artist and poet John Ruskin, who exhorted the British people to take in beauty through sketches and ‘word-painting’ instead. Through identifying the sources of attraction to a beautiful space, we can own it within ourselves.

With touching vulnerability de Botton shares with us about his quirky adventure in sketching a hotel window and composing a word painting of an office park. He does not share the results except to assure us that they are both quite bad, but that is not the point. Ruskin preferred the thoughtful seeing behind a poorly executed sketch more than the reverse. De Botton presents himself as the average human with a desire to appreciate the beauty around him and demonstrate that we can all do the same.

Continue reading

Ancient History Revisited, Part 2

by Alec Hawley, ASLA

Map of the City and County of San Francisco drawn for the San Francisco News Letter and the Pacific Mining Journal by James Butler, 1864. Park overlap – Olmsted proposal: 120 properties; Olmsted’s successor William Hammond Hall’s proposal: 14 properties. / image: David Rumsey Map Collection

Revisiting the lost plans of Frederick Law Olmsted and the history of San Francisco’s most iconic park to imagine what might be

For the first installment in this series, please see Ancient History Revisited, published on The Field last week.

While the supervisors and mayor of San Francisco were focused on directing development of San Francisco outwards to the Pacific Ocean, where land could be acquired relatively easily for their purposes, Frederick Law Olmsted’s report, to the contrary, wished to develop a park in what is now known as Lower Haight / Hayes Valley and City Hall, with a broad parkway connecting the Bay to the interior, along what is now Van Ness Ave.

Olmsted’s chief argument was a practical one, depicting the extreme challenges that San Francisco would face with the possibility of a Central Park-sized pleasure ground and Sylvan aesthetic.

Continue reading

Volunteers Needed for MasterSpec Review Committee

Precise drawing with ruler
image: Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

Apply now to represent ASLA in the review of the MasterSpec landscape architecture library.

ASLA is seeking four to six members to join the MasterSpec Landscape Architecture Review Committee, a working group within the ASLA Professional Practice Committee.

The MasterSpec Landscape Architecture Review Committee (MLARC) members will represent ASLA in the review of the Landscape Architecture Library and volunteer their time in support of MasterSpec. We are seeking licensed practitioners experienced with MasterSpec to volunteer for a two-year term on the MLARC.

Continue reading

Ancient History Revisited

by Alec Hawley, ASLA

Images: Willard Worden, courtesy wnp15.366 (left); Alec Hawley (right)

Revisiting the lost plans of Frederick Law Olmsted and the history of San Francisco’s most iconic park to imagine what might be

“No city in the world needs such recreation grounds more than San Francisco. A great Park, or—what is more practical—a series of small parks, connected by varied and ornamental avenues, where people can drive, ride, and walk, free from the dust and noise, is the great want of this city.”

– Frederick Law Olmsted. Preliminary report in regard to a plan of public pleasure grounds for the City of San Francisco. Olmsted, Vaux & Co. 1866

Why revisit plans and thoughts that are more than a century and a half old in the midst of a crisis that deserves immediate attention, and safe access for all to public space? What purpose do we find to look back and analyze the origins of the City by the Bay and imagine this debate now that San Francisco is a globalized metropolis of nearly one million? What could be learned by revisiting an era when more than half the city was tidal marsh and sand dunes with a minuscule fort, a mission, and small port of trade? Could we, in this bleak hour, find the advice there to guide our path for shaping space in the contemporary urban life of the San Francisco that we seek?

We are all collectively seeking room to breathe right now. It is not a mystery why streets, gardens, and parks have become so vital and primary in the consciousness of 2020. Schools, businesses, airports, and factories have been shuttered, opened, and some closed again for months, as we try to manage a global pandemic that is destroying our communities. The only remaining space to escape outside of our homes are our shared streets and public parks. Where better to go than to explore our city’s origins, when our daily lives are in upheaval, to see if even a shred of insight lingers to help ease our current condition, which may well become a new era in landscape and urban planning.

Continue reading

Students & Educators: Step Up to the Campus RainWorks Challenge

Florida International University’s entry, Coastal Eco-Waters: Adapting for a Resilient Campus, won first place in the master plan category of the 2019 Campus RainWorks Challenge. / image: Florida International University Design Board

Registration for the ninth annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Campus RainWorks Challenge is open now through October 1, 2020.

The Campus RainWorks Challenge is a green infrastructure design competition that seeks to engage with the next generation of environmental professionals, foster a dialogue about the need for innovative stormwater management, and showcase the environmental, economic, and social benefits of green infrastructure practices.

The Campus RainWorks Challenge is open to institutions of higher education across the United States and its territories. With the support of a faculty advisor, teams that compete are asked to design an innovative green infrastructure project for their campus that effectively manages stormwater pollution and also provides additional benefits to the campus community and environment.

To learn more about the competition and hear from faculty and students that have previously participated, please register for this week’s free webcast:

Thursday, September 3, 2020
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. (Eastern)
Register Now


  • Bo Yang, PhD, ASLA, PLA, AICP, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona.
  • Matthew Lutheran, MLA, ISA Certified Arborist and Restoration Program Manager for the Tucson Audubon Society. Matthew graduated from the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture in 2019 with a Masters in Landscape Architecture and was a member of the (Re)Searching for a Spot team, a demonstration project winner in the 2018 Campus RainWorks Challenge.

ASLA is a proud supporter of the EPA Campus RainWorks Challenge, and ASLA members participate as jurors during the review process. If you are interested in volunteering as a juror, please contact

Continue reading