A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 2

by Naomi Heller

ASLA 2012 Professional Honor Award in Communications. Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Sharon Danks, Bay Tree Design, Inc. / image: © 2010 by Sharon Danks

We are very pleased to share the second part of this highly informative article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The first part of this brief history of playground design concluded with the shift from more standardized “model playgrounds” to the more open-ended, imagination-focused play of “novel playgrounds.” Beginning in the 1960s, in response to the Cold War, these novelty playgrounds took on space ship-themed structures. Described in a 1963 issue of Life Magazine, these satellite, rocket, and submarine playgrounds could be seen popping up around the world (here’s just one example: Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder, CO).

During this period, the manufacturing process for playground equipment also advanced. Originally constructed by hand or assembled from kits, novelty playgrounds shifted to more elaborate and standardized pieces. In addition, large firms specializing in designing, building, and maintaining playground equipment began to emerge (Verni, 2015).

In 1978, a one-year-old boy was climbing a 12-foot tall “tornado slide” in Chicago’s Hamlin Park when he slipped between the railings and the steps and fell on his head on the asphalt below. On January 14, 1985 a judge awarded him a minimum of $9.5 million for severe head injuries (Mount, 1985). Similar lawsuits created a need for playground safety regulation. Thus began the era of the “standardized playground,” with the codification of safety regulations and a re-design of manufactured playground equipment.

In 1981, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, which has since been adopted across the US. The new regulations led to the shrinking size and height of new equipment, fewer climbing opportunities, and more guardrails installed on playgrounds. The regulations also addressed safety materials and specified hard plastic or splinter-free wood equipment, vinyl coating, rounded edges, and rubber safety surfaces.

Continue reading

Resources for Building Equity in the Workplace

by the WILA PPN Leadership Team

image: You X Ventures on Unsplash

This article is part of a guide the Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) Leadership Team is releasing this month titled How To Reach Gender Equity in Your Workplace: A Guide for Landscape Architects. For more information about the guide and why we developed it, check out our first article, Introducing the WILA PPN’s Gender Equity Guide: A Toolkit for Landscape Architects.

The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) Leadership Team, led by PPN Co-Chair TJ Marston, has curated a list of resources to help businesses and individuals tackle four important workplace issues that affect gender equity in landscape architecture: flexibility, caregiving, pay inequity, and discrimination:

Startup Pregnant is a five star-rated podcast about reinventing work and parenthood, looking at deep human questions around what it means to become a parent, grow a business, deal with success, and learn from failure.

  • Why we love it: You don’t have to run a start-up or be pregnant to find this podcast helpful. Regular listeners will find the stories from entrepreneurial women and leaders cut to the core of issues facing parents and women in today’s workforce.
  • Fun fact: The founder, Sarah Peck, is a former landscape designer who received her MLA from the University of Pennsylvania. While she keeps the focus on her new business ventures, she knows our industry and the demands it takes. Plus, she has a great radio voice that you’ll find easy to listen to on your commute or in your free time!

Continue reading

A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 1

by Naomi Heller

N.Y. Playground, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915 / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

We are so pleased to share this informative two-part article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller. Naomi is a playground designer focused on creating spaces and objects that provide children the freedom to think, act, and play in creative ways. Naomi received her Master of Science in Architecture from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and her Bachelor of Architecture from the Boston Architectural College. She is employed at StudioMLA in Brookline, MA.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The concept of play as a vital part of human development is newer than we may imagine, emerging only towards the end of the nineteenth century. Before that time, children were required to work in fields or factories and were not given designated time for play. Public playgrounds did not exist (O’Shea, 2013).

The first public play space was introduced in Germany by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten. Building on the work of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and educator Johann Pestalozzi, Froebel recognized the importance of a stimulating environment and how it could positively impact children (Pound, 2011). Promoting the value of free and nature play, he emphasized the need for contact with natural materials such as sand and water.

Motivated by Froebel’s ideas, sand bergs (piles of sand) were placed in Berlin’s public parks in the 1850s. A more designed sand play was popularized in 1889 when Froebel published plans for building a sandbox (Levine, 2003). The article prompted the use of sandboxes across Germany, in schools and homes.

Continue reading

Tools to Tackle Gender Inequity in the Workplace

by TJ Marston, ASLA, and the WILA PPN Leadership Team

2017 Women in Landscape Architecture Walk attendees in Los Angeles’ Grand Park. / image: EPNAC

This article is part of a guide the Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) Leadership Team is releasing this month titled How To Reach Gender Equity in Your Workplace: A Guide for Landscape Architects. For more information about the guide and why we developed it, check out our first article, Introducing the WILA PPN’s Gender Equity Guide: A Toolkit for Landscape Architects.

What can you DO to support women in the workplace?

The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) Leadership Team, led by PPN Co-Chair TJ Marston, has curated a list of tools and tips to help businesses and individuals tackle four important workplace issues that affect gender equity in landscape architecture: flexibility, caregiving, pay inequity, and discrimination.


  • EDGE Certification is the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. The methodology was designed for medium to large organizations with a minimum of 200 employees, but they do accept inquiries from smaller companies.
  • The JUST program is a voluntary disclosure tool which helps organizations optimize policies that improve social equity and enhance employee engagement. Organizations can use the label on their website or marketing to demonstrate their commitments to these issues. While larger firms like Mithun and Sasaki have used this program with great success, the JUST program also has a sliding scale for pricing based on the size of your business. Anyone can do it, no matter the size!

Continue reading

Share Your Game-Changing Ideas

Miami Beach Soundscape
Miami Beach Soundscape by West 8. / image: photo by Robin Hill ©

The American Society of Landscape Architects is accepting proposals for Game Changer sessions for the 2020 Conference on Landscape Architecture through March 23.

Do you have an idea that will change the field of landscape architecture? Here’s your opportunity to share it at the 2020 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Miami Beach.

We’re seeking presentations for game-changing ideas that can move the profession forward—ideas from different perspectives, voices, and backgrounds. Those big ideas could come from you.

Game Changer sessions are designed to be fast-paced, innovative talks. Presenters will have just 20 slides that advance automatically every 20 seconds to share their game-changing idea. The deadline for presentation proposals is 12:00 p.m. PT on Monday, March 23.

Submit your proposal >

No matter your speaking experience, this is a great opportunity to share ideas and concepts under development that will drive innovation. Submissions from first-time presenters, students, emerging professionals, and allied professionals are strongly encouraged.

Continue reading

Introducing the Women in Landscape Architecture PPN’s Gender Equity Guide

by TJ Marston, ASLA

The 2019 Women in Landscape Architecture Walk in San Diego, during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture. / images: ASLA

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network’s Gender Equity Guide: A Toolkit for Landscape Architects

Would you like to improve gender equity in your workplace?

The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) leadership team has crafted a series of posts that will appear here on The Field over the course of March, Women’s History Month, providing tools, tips, and resources for firms and individuals looking to tackle gender inequity in their workplace.

This information will then be compiled as a downloadable PDF, available on the WILA PPN’s Resources page.

Why is the WILA PPN leadership team providing this guide?

While women are entering our field at unprecedented rates, articles like “The Big Time. The Bigger Time.” in Landscape Architecture Magazine last April showed us that we still have work to do to support the advancement of women in our profession.

Continue reading

Running Wild

by Matt Boehner, ASLA

Runners at the starting line
The intensity of the starting line captured during the Gans Creek Classic. / image: John Kelly Photos, LLC

Running is one of the most popular and practiced sports worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more than 64 million people went jogging or running in 2016, representing a nearly 300% per capita increase since 1990. Relieving stress and having fun are among the top reasons Americans continue to run; however, within the growing trend are competitive races on and off road, with the passion for this starting at the youth level with the sport of cross country.

While cross country running is by no means a new individual or team sport, the planning trend for parks and recreation departments has been traditional active sports such as baseball/softball, basketball, and soccer facilities. Cross country courses historically were set up to run through parks or golf courses following simple mowed paths and painted lines, with no real infrastructure or permanence. Columbia Parks and Recreation (CPRD) and a unique partnership with the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) and the University of Missouri Athletics (MU) aims to race to the front of the growing running trend of dedicated cross country courses with the development of a championship cross country course as a stand-alone park amenity that can host a variety of running events for all skill levels.

Continue reading

SITES Successes: Celebrating “Firsts” from 2019

by Danielle Pieranunzi

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, PA / image: Green Business Certification, Inc.

In order to create a truly sustainable, resilient, equitable, and healthy society, we must address our outdoor spaces. Unlike conventional buildings, which play an immense role in impacting both our outdoor and indoor environments, healthy and functional landscapes appreciate in value over time, providing a multitude of benefits at various scales—from reducing urban heat island effects and cleaning stormwater runoff in cities to improving the mental and physical health of those who interact with these spaces.

While every building has a site, not every site has a building, and the SITES program fills a necessary and important gap in elevating the importance of landscapes and sustainable site development.

This is why it’s so exciting to see the ways that the market is growing for SITES. Within the past year alone, we saw new project types, new countries implementing the rating system, and stronger commitments to sustainability with Platinum-level certification. To keep up with market demand, we also began formally offering precertification, which can help projects attract community supporters, funders, and can even expedite permitting in some localities.

The SITES program celebrated many “firsts” in the past year, and it is through projects’ leadership that we continue to see demand and ingenuity move the market for sustainable outdoor spaces forward.

Continue reading

The 2020 Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Challenge

by Chris Stevens, ASLA

The Smokey Hollow Community
The Smokey Hollow Community, HALS FL-9-4, Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

For the 11th annual HALS Challenge, the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) invites you to document vanishing or lost landscapes. Many historic American landscapes are under threat or have been lost. Threats include development pressure, neglect and climate change.

By documenting vanishing or lost historic landscapes for HALS, you may increase historic landscape awareness with your local governments and preservation commissions by illuminating these almost forgotten vestiges of America’s past. People from every state are hereby challenged to focus their 2020 vision to complete at least one HALS short format history to document vanishing or lost landscapes.

Short format histories should be submitted to HALS at the National Park Service no later than July 31, 2020. The HALS Short Format History guidelines, brochure, and digital template may be downloaded from the National Park Service’s HALS website.

Continue reading

2019 ASLA Conference Education Session Recordings

The opening general session of the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture
In her opening general session, Gina McCarthy declared, “We need landscape architects to design a world that is healthy, safe, and beautiful — and more just. Landscape architecture can kindle hope in all of us.” / image: EPNAC

More than 40 education sessions recorded during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego are now available through ASLA Online Learning. The recorded sessions’ topics range from climate action and metrics for assessing public space designs to innovative business practices and risk management.

ASLA Online Learning offers both live online presentations throughout the year and more than 200 recordings for Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System™ (LA CES™)-approved professional development hours (PDH). Log in using your ASLA username and password for member discounts and access to free PDH, for ASLA members only.

Free for ASLA Members: The 2019 General Sessions

Gina McCarthy, President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, brought down the house during her 2019 keynote speech when she declared landscape architecture THE profession to solve the climate crisis. ASLA members now have exclusive access to the recording of the opening general session, From Climate Change to Climate Action: Building a Clean, Healthy, Sustainable Future, free-of-charge via ASLA Online Learning (1.0 PDH LA CES/non-HSW).

The blockbuster closing general session, No Time to Waste: Landscape Architecture and the Global Challenge of Climate Change, presented by Kongjian Yu, FASLA, Kotchakorn Voraakhom, ASLA, and Hitesh Mehta, FASLA, and moderated by Andrew Revkin, is also available to all ASLA members free-of-charge, offering 1.0 PDH LA CES/non-HSW.

Continue reading

Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 2

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Hoover Elementary School students in their school's garden
Students at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, California search for interesting insects to study in their beautiful half-acre garden. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

Welcome back to the second part of Lauren Iversen’s interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America. For the first part of this conversation, please see last week’s post.

How do you see play fitting in? I’m really interested in how play affects children’s mental and physical development. How do you see things like nature play fitting into the schoolyards?

I think it’s important that our schoolyards encourage all types of play: gross and fine motor, pretend play, social play, and nature play—particularly for preschool through elementary school. We need to be developing environments that interest children, as they play in the same place year after year, as their needs expand, and interests change.

Adding trees, shrubs, and other plants to a schoolyard—and designing them in ways that invite interaction—is important. Plants in a green schoolyard should not just be there to add to curb appeal for adults but should be designed first and foremost to facilitate child development and children’s happiness.

What do children like to do in natural settings? They generally enjoy crawling into bushes to make forts and dens. They like to climb trees. They enjoy picking flowers and collecting pine cones and acorns. They enjoy using different plant parts in their games as the seasons change—picking flowers in the spring, collecting seeds or nuts when they fall, and gathering brightly colored autumn leaves.

Continue reading

Showcase Your Work: Enter the ASLA Professional and Student Awards

ASLA 2019 Professional Honor Award in Residential Design. Hassalo on Eighth | From Urban Blight to LEED Platinum Neighborhood. PLACE. / image: Christian Columbres

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is accepting entries for the 2020 Professional and Student Awards. This prestigious juried landscape architecture competition honors the best and most innovative landscape architecture projects from around the globe and gives a glimpse into the future of the profession.

ASLA Professional Awards Key Dates & Deadlines:

ASLA Student Awards:

  • Monday, May 4, 11:59 p.m. PST: entry fees for the Student Awards are due
  • Monday, May 11, 11:59 p.m. PST: submissions for the Student Awards are due

This year, a new award category, Urban Design, will recognize projects that activate networks of spaces that mediate between social equity, economic viability, infrastructure, environmental stewardship, and place-making in the public and private realm.

Winners receive featured coverage in Landscape Architecture Magazine, and in many other design and construction industry and general interest media. ASLA will honor the award recipients, their clients, and advisors at the awards presentation ceremony during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Miami Beach, October 2-5, 2020.

Continue reading

Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 1

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Children playing, green schoolyard, Golestan School
Children play exuberantly in the vibrant green schoolyard at Golestan School in the San Francisco Bay Area. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

We are delighted to share Lauren’s interview with Sharon Danks, who talks about her vitally important work with greening schoolyards. This is a topic that is applicable to anyone who cares for and about children!
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America, by
Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA, graduate student in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington

Sharon, please tell me what Green Schoolyards America is and works towards.

Green Schoolyards America is a non-profit organization, based in Berkeley, California. We focus on transforming asphalt-covered school grounds into park-like green spaces that improve children’s well-being, learning, and play while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of our cities. We are working to change the norm for school ground design, use, and management so that all children will have access to the natural world on a daily basis, right outside their classroom door.

School districts are one of the biggest land managers in the country, and yet they often don’t see land management as their role. As a result, school grounds are often unusually barren places from an ecological perspective, particularly in our cities. Sadly, we’re putting millions of children—some of our most vulnerable citizens—in these places without adequate protection from the elements or the mental and physical health benefits that the natural world affords. The most barren school grounds are typically also in places with the fewest resources, creating an extreme equity problem and shocking level of disparity.

Continue reading

Urban Forestry & Quality of Life

by Nate Lowry, ASLA

Boone’s Ferry Road streetscape in Wilsonville, Oregon
image: MacKay Sposito Engineering

Ever wonder what our urban streets and avenues would be without street trees or other urban forestry components? Have you ever pulled into that shopping center from yesteryear only to find not a tree, planting island, or bit of shade in sight? How did that wall-to-wall paved impervious area make you feel? Can cities and urban infrastructure even exist and provide an ample quality of life without urban forestry?

Urban forestry is essential to our built environment and population centers and is defined by Wikipedia as the “care and management of single trees and tree populations in urban settings for the purpose of improving the urban environment.”

Healthy streetscapes and efforts to employ urban forestry techniques have a number of positive effects cities could likely not live without. Street trees help curb the urban heat island effect and can be effective in carbon sequestering in urban areas where carbon footprints tend to peak. They also provide much needed shade that improves not only the pedestrian experience, but also keeps your car cooler on a 90 degree day and helps businesses reduce energy use through less air conditioning. Street trees often increase property values, aid in stormwater management, and as an added benefit, attract tourism, businesses, and economic investment.

Continue reading

What Does the Doctrine of Discovery Have to Do With Environmental Justice?

by Zoé Edgecomb, ASLA

Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio. At the time European monarchs began granting lands of the New World to their subjects, geography was a young science, and land surveying as we know it had not yet been invented. / image: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

We need a history lesson

To really understand the American landscape, you need to know about the Doctrine of Discovery. As a set of principles used to justify European colonization, it grew over hundreds of years to become a pillar of international law, and it set the stage for centuries of imperialism worldwide.

These days, most people agree that not everyone benefited from the process of U.S. colonization. White settlers broke treaties with Native American nations, drove the buffalo nearly to extirpation, and ripped children from their mothers to be sold as slaves in the service of cotton production. But unless you’re Native American, it’s likely you’ve never heard of “Discovery.” ASLA’s position on environmental justice calls on us to address unequal distribution of resources related to land, including clean air, water, and food. The colonialist Doctrine of Discovery is at the root of unequal distribution in the United States, and for that reason it’s essential that we know about it.

Continue reading

Age Old Cities: A Virtual Journey

Palmyra's theatre reconstructed
A 3D reconstruction of Palmyra’s theatre / image: Alexandra Hay

Age Old Cities: A Virtual Journey from Palmyra to Mosul
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC
January 25 – October 25, 2020

Age Old Cities is a striking exhibit that opened this weekend in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art. It recreates sites in Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq through extraordinarily detailed documentation of their current state and 3D reconstructions projected on the gallery walls.

While the “magic of technology,” as described in the wall text at the exhibit’s entry, may sound over-dramatic, the large-scale visuals and their immersive presentation are arresting. A blend of archival materials, drone imagery, and photogrammetry capture—the same technology used in the 2019 ASLA Award-winning project Artful Technology Methods for Communicating Non-Standard Construction Materials to digitally scan landscape boulders, and for other applications within the fields of landscape architecture historic preservation—allowed for the creation of profoundly affecting visual restorations that transport the viewer.

Continue reading

Advancing Landscape Architecture Through Advocacy

The Capitol, Washington, DC
image: EPNAC

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) works with ASLA’s chapters, state and federal legislators, state and administration officials, and regulatory bodies to advance policies critical to the profession. ASLA’s current priorities are:

  • Licensure
  • Climate Change and Resilience
  • Environmental Justice
  • Public Lands and National and Community Parks
  • Transportation Design and Planning
  • Water and Stormwater Management

The new year may have only just begun, but ASLA’s Government Affairs team has already put forth a host of statements and updates in recent weeks. Below is a recap of recent announcements, in case you missed them, plus where to find the latest advocacy news.

National Scenic Byways Nominations Process Announced

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced that the application packet for nominations for new National Scenic Byways will be available on their website on February 13, 2020. For the first time in 12 years, state and tribal scenic byways around the country will have the opportunity to apply for the important National Scenic Byways status.

Continue reading

The 2019 HALS Challenge Results: Historic Streetscapes

by Chris Stevens, ASLA

Carretera Central, HALS PR-2, San Juan, Caguas, Cayey, Aibonito, Coamo, Juana Diaz, and Ponce, Puerto Rico. / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The results of the tenth annual Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) Challenge were announced at the HALS Meeting during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego on Saturday, November 16, 2019. Congratulations to the winners! Sponsored by the National Park Service, cash prizes were awarded to the top three submissions. This challenge resulted in the donation of 15 impressive HALS short format historical reports and a few measured drawings and large format photographs to the HALS collection.

2019 HALS Challenge: Historic Streetscapes

First Place: Carretera Central, HALS PR-2
Puerto Rico
by Teresita M. Del Valle, RA, ASLA

Second Place: Larchwood, HALS MA-5
Cambridge, Massachusetts
by Allison A. Crosbie, ASLA, Preservation Administrator, and Kathleen Rawlins, Assistant Director, City of Cambridge Historical Commission.

Third Place: Broad Street, HALS SC-20
Charleston, South Carolina
by John Bennett, Kayleigh Defenbaugh, Monica Hendricks, Tanesha High, Elliott Simon, and Rachel Wilson – Clemson University / College of Charleston. Faculty Sponsor: Carter L. Hudgins, Director, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation.

Honorable Mention: Main Street, HALS SC-21
Greenville, South Carolina
by Rebekah Lawrence, Associate ASLA

Continue reading

Nurture the Palette for Your Own Murals

by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, ASLA

Green wall
Green mural at Clariant ten years after installation / image: Mingzhu Nerval

An Interview with Antoine Nerval on International Practice and Planting Design

“The potential of landscape planting design is often limited by the supply of plant materials, especially when proposing a complex and diverse living system. Such proposals are in many cases considered unrealistic and too expensive…that is why we decided to start from plant collection and plant nursery.”
– Antoine Nerval

Antoine Nerval is an agricultural engineer who designs vertical gardens. He has created living murals and built nurseries around the world, and is currently working on one of the world’s largest botanical gardens in Normandy, France. This interview—conducted by Chih-Wei G.V. Chang, past chair of ASLA’s International Practice Professional Practice Network (PPN), for a research project—sheds light on Antoine’s unconventional practice and approach to landscape architecture and international planting design.

Coming from a French agricultural engineering background, what did you find particularly different working in the field of landscape architecture? Did anything catch your attention practicing alongside landscape architects in the United States?

It has been easy to communicate with landscape architects because I myself also love to draw or ‘graffiti’ on the paper, and the scale of landscape is similar to larger murals. From my point of view, it is a perfect mix between agriculture engineering and art.

I think in the United States, the landscape architecture industry is very mature and professional, but the specialization also leads to the disconnection between plants and design. Working alongside many excellent teams, I was surprised to find little design discussion about planting materials in the early conceptual phase. The plant selection often only got serious at a much later phase, where designers have less control. It is quite a missed opportunity for many talented landscape designers. For me, my first thoughts for any design projects would always be inspired by particular plants or settings, and then the designs evolve around them.

Continue reading

Nominate Your Peers for Recognition: 2020 ASLA Honors

ASLA Design Medal
ASLA’s highest honors are presented at the President’s Dinner during the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture. The 2019 ASLA Design Medal winner was Douglas Reed, FASLA. / image: EPNAC

We may only be a few weeks into the new year, but the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) already has several deadlines coming up. Help to ensure your voice is heard, that you and your colleagues are recognized for your work and leadership, and that your landscape architecture practice area is represented by taking part in one or more of these open calls—for presentations, nominations, and exemplary projects:

Call for Presentations for the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture
Deadline: Thursday, January 23, 2020, 11:59 p.m. PST

Honors Nominations
Deadline: Friday, February 7, 2020, 6:00 p.m. EST

Professional Awards Call for Entries
Deadline for entry fees: Friday, February 21, 2020
Deadline for submissions: Friday, March 6, 2020, 11:59 p.m. PST

Student Awards Call for Entries
Deadline for entry fees: Monday, May 4, 2020
Deadline for submissions: Monday, May 11, 2020, 11:59 p.m. PST

Below, we take a closer look at each of the ASLA Honors, including a new honor to recognize the outstanding and innovative contributions of emerging leaders in the field. These prestigious awards recognize individuals and organizations for their lifetime achievements and notable contributions to the profession of landscape architecture.

Continue reading

Performance-Based Plant Selection for Bioretention

by Jeremy Person, PLA, ASLA, Brian Wethington, Donna Evans, and Irene Ogata, ASLA

Bioretention planter in Portland, OR
Bioretention planter in Portland, OR, planted with large native plants. Oversized plantings cause visibility issues for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists and create maintenance liabilities. / image: City of Portland

For more than two decades landscape architects and stormwater professionals have been utilizing vegetated bioretention systems to help address complex stormwater and climate change-related issues. Bioretention systems use a combination of soil and plants to collect, detain, treat, and infiltrate runoff from roads, roofs, and other impervious surfaces. It is becoming apparent that plant health is one of the major drivers of increasing life-cycle costs, and that improper plant selection is partially to blame.

Landscape architects, horticulturalists, and designers are beginning to better define which characteristics make a plant ideal for use in bioretention. Understanding the site-specific needs for plants and identifying project goals allow designers to address performance issues up front and reduce long-term maintenance liabilities. The following three issues should be considered as early in a project as possible:

1. Project Goals and Facility Design

The two major goals for most bioretention projects are pollution reduction and flow control. Projects may serve one goal or both, and this may vary across a city or region. Bioretention facilities are designed for project-specific hydraulic regimes with controlled flooding and hydroperiods that affect plant viability. This affects plant selection in several ways:

  • Hydroperiod: Understanding the flooding cycle of the facility, its frequency, and how it relates to the growing cycle of the plants is critical. Smaller plants often fail because they are routinely flooded during the growing season, depriving them of needed oxygen. Designers should prioritize plants that grow taller than the high-water level and take cues from native wetland plants that have evolved to tolerate similar hydroperiods.

Continue reading

Reflections on Housing Diversity

by Regan Pence, ASLA

Aerial photo from a drone flight over a residential development in Omaha
From a drone flight over Omaha / image: Regan Pence

I am a practicing landscape architect in Omaha, Nebraska, and I have grown to love the community and the projects I have been a part of. Since my move to Omaha seven years ago, I have often questioned why there is such an absence of variety in housing options in Omaha. The options appear to be incredibly limited compared to some of the other cities I have lived in or visited. Omaha is a city within proximity of several larger metropolitan areas, and Metropolitan Omaha is nearly 1,000,000 people. So, what is the reason for the lack of diversity in homes?

Over time, I ruminated more and more over this question. The lack of housing product is not necessarily a new issue, and innumerable metropolitan areas around the world have already experienced these crossroads. The difference with many of those areas, however, is that they arrived at a conclusion many years ago. Eventually, there is always a tipping point that requires innovation to survive. Upon approaching that tipping point, the conversation evolves from how we can continue to provide housing, to how do we thoughtfully provide housing to everyone (while being respectful of our resources).

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to assist with numerous projects and explore countless new housing concepts. Unfortunately, there are occasions where the housing concepts I’ve worked through don’t seem to get the traction I expect—even if they are proven concepts borrowed from successful projects in other municipalities. After spending time thinking over this reluctance, I began to understand that perhaps I was selling ideas that were forced or premature for the region. Until recently, there was a lack of demand for innovative housing products. Developers were profitable, and the community was content with the current supply. Recently, however, I’ve started to hear a buzz on the street. People are curious as to where the new housing products are, what is the missing-middle, and why am I living next to a corn field?

In response, I began to deliberate with some of our local development community. I sought to understand the challenges from all points of view, rather than simply focus on the designer or academic perspective. Below you’ll find pieces from one of those discussions.

Continue reading

A Recap of the ASLA Conference from the Children’s Outdoors Environments PPN

by Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA

The Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture.
Attendees enjoying a stop on the Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session / image: Ilisa Goldman

With the recent release of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, let’s give homage to the iconic late Fred Rogers and his thoughts about play. He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Our Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) presence at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego fully aligned with Mr. Roger’s sentiments. Here’s how.

It began with a field session, Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning, led by COE PPN Co-Chair Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Park Landscape Architect with the City of San Diego, and Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, of Spurlock Landscape Architects. The excitement and sense of wonder filled the double-decker bus as the this sold out session got started. The first stop was the CDA Hilltop Child Development Center (CDC) in Chula Vista, designed by Ilisa in 2012. Program Director at Child Development Associates (CDA), Susan Holley, and Ilisa led a tour through the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE), discussing the concepts behind the design, site layout, installation, maintenance, and lessons learned. Highlights included the Habitat gARTen, the mud kitchen, and vegetable garden.

From the Hilltop CDC, the field session headed to the community of Encanto in South East San Diego to visit the EarthLab, run by Groundwork San Diego/Chollas Creek. Education Director Joanna Proctor led the group through the project site, which included a native garden/pocket park, outdoor learning amphitheater, educational creek bed, production gardens, and newly installed accessible pathways. An engaging discussion about partnerships with the school district and community, and curricular connections, took place.

Continue reading

2019 in Review: Professional Practice Networks Highlights

ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) provide opportunities for professionals interested in the same areas of practice to exchange information, learn about current practices and research, and network with each other—both online and in person at the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture.

Throughout the year, PPN leaders and members share their experiences and expertise as authors for The Field blog and as presenters for ASLA’s Online Learning webinars. In 2019, the PPNs published 101 posts for The Field and organized 16 webinars. We would like to thank all of you who contributed to this shared body of knowledge in 2019! These opportunities are open to all ASLA members, and we hope to grow our group of PPN contributors in 2020.

Below, we highlight the top 10 Field posts and best-attended live Online Learning presentations of the year, but be sure to check out the full PPN 2019 in Review for additional information, including highlights from PPN Live at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego and how all ASLA members can contribute and participate on a national level through the PPNs.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019

Bicyclists on the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway
Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway, NY / image: Eric Hamilton

State Scenic Byways are roads or highways under federal, state, or local ownership that have been designated by the state through legislation or some other official declaration for their ability to meet one or more of the six intrinsic qualities. Federal guidance identified these intrinsic qualities as scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archeological, and/or natural. The Scenic Byway program was initiated under the 1992 Federal transportation legislation known as ISTEA. The federal program was discontinued in 2012.

On September 22, 2019 the President signed H.R. 831, Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act of 2019. The act directs the Secretary of Transportation to request nominations for and make determinations regarding roads to be designated under the National Scenic Byway Program. Only roadways already designated as state byways with Corridor Management Plans (CMPs) are eligible to apply.

Because the legislation references National Scenic Byway designation exclusively, it is unclear if byways will be permitted to seek All-American Road (AAR) designation. What is clear is that the scenic byway dedicated federal funding program available when the Federal Scenic Byway Program was initiated in 1992 remains defunct. Scenic Byway organizations continue to be eligible to partner with municipalities and apply for funding under the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program for transportation alternatives (TA). Activities eligible for TA funding include scenic pull offs, interpretative signs, and highway beautification projects. Neither corridor management plan preparation nor administrative costs associated with managing a byway are eligible for TA funding (it should be noted that the latter never was eligible for federal funding).

Incentives for becoming a National Scenic Byway include advertising opportunities, exposure on FHWA’s National Scenic Byway website, and the potential to appeal to a tourism community that extends far beyond state boundaries.

Continue reading

Designing for Health: How SITES Improves Quality of Life

by Sonja Trierweiler

image: photo by Jennifer Birdie Shawker on Unsplash

Only 11 percent of people associate terms like “green space” and “green building” with creating an environment in which people live longer and healthier lives. Improved air quality is proven to increase cognitive function and decision-making skills, and connection to nature and natural materials promotes human health and wellbeing—yet only 11 percent of people see and understand this link.

This number came from research conducted as part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Living Standard campaign, which was launched at Greenbuild Chicago in November 2018. Living Standard aims to promote healthier, safer, more equitable, and more sustainable spaces through research, storytelling, and listening to those both inside and outside of our communities.

The Living Standard Report, Volume I, found that only 11 percent of people surveyed associated terms like “green space” and “green building” as strongly related to creating a healthy environment. The graph above shows different words and phrases associated with the environment and being green. Survey takers were asked: which THREE words or phrases are MOST STRONGLY / LEAST related to creating an environment that lets you live a longer and healthier life? / image: The Living Standard Report, Volume I

Our research has found that there are a number of ways we can help people connect the dots, including relating green spaces back to health and safety outcomes, future generations, and environmental stakes. But ultimately, it boils down to storytelling and localization.

Continue reading

Submit Your Ideas for the 2020 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture

Miami Beach Soundscape by West 8 / image: photo by Robin Hill ©

The American Society of Landscape Architects is now accepting proposals for the 2020 Conference on Landscape Architecture in Miami through January 23.

The ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture is the largest gathering of landscape architects and allied professionals in the world—all coming together to learn, celebrate, build relationships, and strengthen the bonds of our incredibly varied professional community.

We are seeking education proposals that will help to drive change in the field of landscape architecture and solve everyday challenges informed by research and practice. Help us shape the 2020 education program by submitting a proposal through our online system by Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. PT.

New for 2020

The conference education program will be organized across dynamic conference tracks designed to help you focus on the challenges that are most important to you. Before you submit your proposal, prepare by reviewing the 2020 conference tracks and descriptions. For your submission, select one of 14 tracks that represent topics most relevant to the practice of landscape architecture and cross sector collaborations today.

Please visit the submission site to learn more about criteria, the review process, and key dates. ASLA members are invited to log in to the online system using their unique ASLA ID.

Continue reading

Two Women [Re]Making Wikipedia History

by TJ Marston, ASLA

image: Alexandra Mei

Starting this Sunday, December 8, the The Wikipedia Project is taking over the WxLA Instagram!

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WiLA PPN)’s new Wiki Officer, Alexandra Mei, Associate ASLA, and her research partner Shira Grosman, Student ASLA, created The Wikipedia Project to share their work promoting the history of women in landscape architecture in Wikipedia.

“As a shared and open resource, Wikipedia provides a public platform for us to acknowledge and celebrate the groundbreaking work that women have contributed to the field.”
– Alexandra Mei, WiLA Wiki Officer

The takeover will last one week, December 8 – December 14, so make sure you follow @w_x_la to catch it all!

Wiki Writers:

Alexandra Mei, Associate ASLA, is a landscape designer at Merritt Chase and a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis. She recently completed a two-year research fellowship from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, focused on the patterns of weathering and decay in the design of public landscapes. Alexandra graduated from WashU with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and from Harvard GSD with her masters in landscape architecture. She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in St. Louis.

Shira Grosman, Student ASLA, is a Masters Candidate in Landscape Architecture at Harvard GSD. She has worked in landscape architecture and architecture firms in New York and Los Angeles and conducted multiple research projects on women in design. She is currently co-editor of Womxn in Design‘s Bibliography on Identity Theories. Shira graduated from WashU with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Continue reading

Nature’s Capacity to Create a Lifetime Home

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Farmer David, age 4, helping to create our first family garden. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

I think that my commitment to nature all started with my childhood home. I grew up in a very busy Midwestern household, the oldest of four children, with two transplanted Brooklyn, New York academics for parents. My parents’ prior experience with plants and gardening was nil. Nonetheless, upon purchasing our home in Southwest Michigan, they tackled installing a vegetable garden in our suburban home with great zest and enthusiasm; determined to be farmers and to cast aside their collective urban world view. Their interest in the garden rapidly waned, but much to their surprise, their six-year-old daughter (me) took to the dirt with unfettered passion and zeal.

I quickly found that tending to the garden was a means to escape from three pesky younger siblings and find quiet and solitude amongst the veggies. It was my place in our home, a place where I felt most attached and connected and whole. The garden was where I wanted to be whenever I could. When it came time to harvest, I can still recall, half a century later, a sense of sheer wonder and delight in what I, as a little six-year-old girl, had nurtured all summer long. I can point to those early experiences in our vegetable garden as the catalyst for what would ultimately define my professional work and lifelong love of gardening and nature as a means to define home and to enhance the human experience.

As an occupational therapy educator, researcher, and landscape design consultant, my work focuses on how experiences in nature impact health and wellbeing. I am increasingly interested in how childhood experiences with nature can enrich parent-child as well as place attachment relationships and buffer the impact of trauma. We want our children to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and to home and to be whole. These relationships may be nurtured through experiences in nature.

Continue reading