90 Years of Landscape Architecture: Celebrating TxDOT’s History

by Sandra Chipley, RLA, ASLA

Bluebonnets in Ellis County near Ennis, Texas / image: Michael Amador, TxDOT Photo Library Archives

The Texas Department of Transportation’s landscape architects have been designing safety, comfort, and aesthetics into our Texas roadways for 90 years. In celebration of this monumental 2023 anniversary, TxDOT has produced a short video chronicling their contributions and accomplishments. In 1933, Chief Engineer Gibb Gilchrist hired the Texas Highway Department’s first landscape architect, ‘Jac’ Gubbels, who immediately championed the benefits of roadside beautification to the public, contractors, and highway engineers. Gubbels’ 1938 book, American Highways & Roadsides, promoted his design philosophies on highway alignment road profiles, erosion control, and driver safely. Today, TxDOT’s transportation landscape architects are answering the questions of how best to integrate roads into the environmental context; they are designing with native plantings to reduce heat islands to lessen impacts of a warmer environment as well as designing for improved air and water quality. Share in TxDOT’s celebration by viewing the video!

About the Texas Department of Transportation

When the Texas Highway Department (now called the Texas Department of Transportation) was legislated in 1917, there were only about 200,000 cars in Texas traveling on fewer than a thousand miles of paved roads. Today, after over 105 years of operation, we are responsible for over 81,000 miles of paved roads that accommodate more than 22 million vehicles. These well-engineered and landscaped highways connect travelers, truckers, and commuters with Texas.

Early beautification project by Texas Highway Department on U.S. Highway 271 east of Paris, 1934 / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives
Controlled Access Intersection Drawing from Volume Number Twelve, Illustrated Studies of Controlled Access Highways, April 1, 1946, Texas Highway Department, Landscape Division / image: TxDOT Library Archives
Rudolph Riefkogel Overlook at Guadalupe Peak on U.S. Highway 62, ca. late 1950s-early 1960s / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives
Roadside Overlook at Guadalupe Peak, colorized postcard, US 62, late 1950s / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives
Grand Opening Rest Area Interstate Highway 10, Near San Antonio, Texas, 1963 / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives

Sandra Chipley, Cyndi Griesser, and Anne L. Cook are credited with the research, design, script, and production of TxDOT’s video “90 Years of Landscape Architecture, Celebrating TxDOT’s History.”

Texas Stateline Marker construction detail, designed for Texas Centennial, ca. 1930s / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives
Bluebonnet glass tile mosaic, West Villa Maria Road, Bryan, Texas / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives
Designing for Better Air Quality, TxDOT’s Green Ribbon Tree Planting Program, Houston, Texas / image: TxDOT Photo Library Archives

Sandra Chipley, RLA, ASLA, is a Transportation Landscape Architect with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Design Division. She holds an undergraduate degree in Anthropology (UT Austin) and a Masters in Landscape Architecture (UT Arlington). Licensed as a landscape architect in both Texas and Nevada, her 37- year career has encompassed positions with Fort Worth Parks and Austin Parks, as well as TxDOT. Chipley has presented sessions at Real Places, Texas ASLA, El Camino Real De Los Tejas National Historic Trail Annual Conference, TRB’s Landscape & Environment/Safety Rest Areas Mid-Year Conference, and TxDOT’s Beyond the Road. She is a co-author of the book Historic Homes of Bastrop, Texas. Chipley is a past president of both the City of Bastrop Parks Board and the Bastrop County Historical Society’s Board of Trustees and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Bastrop County Historical Commission.

Cyndi Griesser is a video production producer at TxDOT, working her 12th year at the agency. She is also a video writer, editor, and photographer. Cyndi enjoys creating video stories about various aspects of the agency to share what’s going on at TxDOT. Her video productions range from an award-winning documentary about a unique TxDOT-designed bridge in Downtown Fort Worth, which was broadcast by PBS stations across the country, to new technology at TxDOT and a celebration of the agency’s 90th year of landscape architecture.

Anne L. Cook is TxDOT’s Photo Librarian, in charge of the department’s Archives. She has been cataloging and archiving agency images for over 34 years and is the recipient of the ASCE Texas Section 2023 History & Heritage Award.

Want to learn more about landscape architects working in transportation? Join us at the ASLA 2023 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Minneapolis this October 27-30 for:

Inside the LA Studio—MnDOT
Intergenerational panelists from the Minnesota Department of Transportation—an organization with 5,000+ employees that owns and operates the fourth largest public road system in the US—will discuss their varied roles within the agency, their career paths, how and why they came to public practice, and the opportunities and benefits of working in the public sector.

Equitable Transportation Design with Small Communities
Forty-six million Americans live in rural counties, often in towns of under 5,000 people. This session uses comparative case studies to identify unique needs for active transportation planning and design in small towns across the country, from the perspective of providing equitable access, resilient systems, and healthy environments.

Tour de Minneapolis Bike Infrastructure (sold out!)
Minneapolis consistently ranks as one of the best cities for biking. Join us as we explore the city’s diverse bike infrastructure on a 7.5-mile ride covering downtown Minneapolis, the Mississippi River, and the University of Minnesota. Learn Minneapolis’ cycling history, gain implementation insights, and discover important design and maintenance considerations.

The Possibility Government Collaborative: Uniting Public Realm Practitioners!
Who is the Possibility Government Collaborative? We are design practitioners leveraging our training as landscape architects to bring innovation to public service and to elevate local investments through mission-driven improvisation and design experimentation. Hear from panelists and each other about bold risks that transform the public realm and join the collaborative!

Register by September 12 for the advance rate!

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