Congress’ Transportation Bills Are Leading Us Down a Road to Nowhere
02/10/2012 by asladirt
Since our nation’s surface transportation law expired in 2009, our nation’s transportation networks have been idling, waiting for Congress to unveil a comprehensive bill that will build 21st century state-of–the-art national infrastructure, put Americans back to work, and fit the growing needs of today’s communities. But both Senate and House committees have offered proposals that don’t accomplish these objectives. Instead, these congressional roadmaps are forcing our nation to drive down the one-way street of just building more roads and highways.
Together, the Senate’s plan and the House bill decimate our nation’s transit, bicycle and pedestrian programs by eliminating dedicated funding for the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, completely terminating the Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program, and abolishing the longstanding practice of providing dedicated funding from the Highway Trust Fund for our nation’s transit systems. Instead, nearly 1,800 pages of congressional bill text are dedicated to roads, highways, and bridges. This, at a time when nearly one in every five Americans utilize transit for some or all of their daily trips. Walking and bicycling now make up nearly 12 percent of all trips in the U.S.
As our nation struggles to maintain its global competitiveness, we must sustain a state-of-the-art multi-modal transportation system that can expedite the movement of people, goods, and services. Unfortunately, Congress’ current transportation proposals continue to promote a car-centric society, placing more automobiles on our already congested roads and highways. By terminating dedicated funding for transit systems, the House will take our country back to the days of sparse, intermittent, or unreliable transit service instead of moving us forward toward multi-modal systems where Americans have safe, reliable transportation alternatives to automobiles. Our 21st century transportation network must include all modes of transportation, including transit, rail, automobiles, and adequate access for bicyclist, pedestrians.
The reauthorization of our surface transportation laws also present a unique opportunity to help put more Americans back to work and jumpstart our local economies. However, current congressional proposals fail to fully realize the job-creating opportunities in our active transportation programs, like the TE program. Planning, designing and constructing bicycle and pedestrian projects create local jobs for landscape architects, planners, construction workers, nurserymen, and the myriad of other professionals throughout the supply chain. In fact, a recent report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) found that under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Transportation Enhancement projects generated the most transportation jobs, with approximately 17 jobs for every $1 million dollars spent. While other transportation projects like road paving and traffic management projects generated the least number of jobs – approximately 9-10. If the Congress is truly determined to put Americans back to work, restoring funding for the job-creating Transportation Enhancements program is a step in the right direction.
As the baby boomers, who once favored more suburban car-centric lifestyles, retire, a new generation of workers is seeking more transit-oriented neighborhoods that include walkable, bikable neighborhoods with easy access to jobs, entertainment and other amenities. According to a 2011 National Association of Realtors Consumer Preference Survey, nearly six in ten adults prefer to live in neighborhoods with a mix of houses and stores and other businesses within an easy walk.
Moreover, as today’s families’ transportation budgets dwindle, there is an increasing concern for their young children to have safe transportation networks to and from school. Since 2005, the Safe Routes To Schools (SRTS) program has successfully helped thousands of communities across the country develop safe walkable and bikable paths and corridors for young children to walk and bike to and from school. In many states, demand far exceeds the supply of available SRTS funds. Recently, in Washington State, 124 applicants requested $43 million. Yet only 29 applicants will be funded and receive approximately $11.4 million in total. Abolishing the Safe Routes to School program is one of the House bill’s most short-sighted provisions. SRTS is not only saving families, communities, and cash-strapped school systems money, it’s also saving kids’ lives.
In 1992, the 102nd Congress unveiled the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, the nation’s first bold and visionary step toward a multi-modal transportation system befitting the American superpower. Unfortunately, 20 years later, this Congress’ comprehensive transportation proposal is not only a road block to our nation’s economic recovery, it is detouring the American people to a place they don’t want to go – backwards.
This guest post is by Roxanne Blackwell, Esq., Manager of Federal Affairs at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)
Image credit: Morning commute in Dallas, Texas / istockphoto.com
Posted in Policy and Regulation, Sustainable Transportation | 1 Comment »
02/09/2012 by asladirt
Private Paradise: Contemporary American Gardens is a collection of forty-one gardens located throughout the United States designed by notable contemporary landscape architects such as OLIN, Kathryn Gustafson, ASLA, Ken Smith, ASLA, and Thomas Woltz, FASLA. The author, Charlotte Frieze, FASLA, is a contributing editor at Town & Country and was the garden editor at House and Garden for nearly 10 years. She provides compelling descriptions of an array of residential landscapes. Each is beautifully photographed and includes notes on the particular climate, soils, and other existing conditions that influenced the designs.
In the introduction, Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, Founder and President of The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), describes the collection of projects as somewhat of an homage to the legacy of Dan Kiley, whose work on the Miller Garden influenced many of the designers featured in the book. He describes them as following “the rise and development of Modernist design principles that balance form and function, now refined to show that a beautiful Modern garden can be horticulturally rich, sustainable, and sensitive to a site’s environmental and cultural systems.” In turn, the book demonstrates the integration of Modern residential landscape architecture with current environmental concerns and sustainable practices.
The projects vary in their response to these concerns and are informed by the particulars of scale. Many address resource conservation with features like permeable surfaces, recycled materials, and native and low-maintenance plant palettes that require no pesticides, limited water, and organic fertilizer. Water conservation and protection are major design considerations in several of the projects where solutions included planted buffers for stormwater management, rainwater-harvesting gardens, and irrigation systems that prioritize irrigation sources and only activate when the landscape requires supplemental water. Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s design for a residence along Lake Washington utilized a planted edge of grasses and perennials along the lake to absorb stormwater runoff and protect the water from excess natural fertilizers applied to other areas of the landscape (see image above). Mikyoung Kim employed a similar strategy at Farrar Pond Garden in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where she planted a “tapestry” of native plants along the edge of the property to protect the historic watershed.
Some larger-scale projects address resource conservation as well as the complexities of sustainable agriculture and ecological restoration. At Seven Ponds Farm, an agricultural landscape in Central Virginia, Nelson Byrd Woltz aimed to provide wildlife habitats and protect water quality within the context of a working farm. They transformed former pasture lands into meadows of wild flowers and native grasses to attract local bird and butterfly populations. They also reshaped muddy stock ponds and planted the edges in order to prevent erosion and filter stormwater runoff carrying fertilizers and other pollutants.
Similar intentions informed the restoration of a riparian habitat located on a former ranch outside Grand Teton National Park. Design Workshop sought to restore the area destroyed by cattle grazing by reintroducing native grasses, sedges, and reeds to control creek bank erosion, prevent sedimentation, and improve water quality downstream.
These spaces seek to provide the private luxury that traditional residential landscape architecture affords while creating site-specific responses to contemporary environmental issues. From expansive vineyards in California to high-rise patios in New York, landscape architects are finding innovative ways to redefine residential landscapes with an increasing attentiveness to broader environmental considerations. Most display a sensitivity to location, such as desert and coastal landscapes where native grasses, drought-tolerant plants, and gravel gardens replace maintenance-intensive lawns. The overall range of projects demonstrates that there is no one type of American landscape.
Explore the book.
This guest post is by Shannon Leahy, Masters of Landscape Architecture candidate, University of Pennsylvania
Image credits: (1) Lakeshore Residence, Gustafson, Guthrie, Nichol, Lake Washington, Washington, (2) Farrar Pond Garden, Mikyoung Kim, Lincoln, MA, (3) Seven Ponds Farm, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Central Virginia, (4) Snake River Residence, Design Workshop, Near Snake River, WY. Private Paradise / The Monacelli Press
Posted in Landscape Architecture, Residential Design, Water Management | Leave a Comment »
Interview with Robert Hammond, Co-Founder of the High Line
02/08/2012 by asladirt
Robert Hammond is Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, the non-profit conservancy that manages the High Line, a public park built atop an abandoned, elevated rail line on the west side of Manhattan. Hammond was awarded a Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, as well as the Rockefeller Foundation’s Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism.
In the beginning of your and Joshua David’s personal story about transforming the abandoned High Line rail line into the most applauded park of recent years, The High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky, you say that early on, living in Chelsea you’d seen parts of the High Line, “but never realized all the bits and pieces connected.” What did the High Line mean in your community? When did you first understand the space in its entirety?
I lived in the neighborhood so I had always seen it when walking around, but I didn’t think it was all connected. I really didn’t think that much about it until I read an article in The New York Times in the summer of ’99 that said it was threatened with demolition, and it included a map. The article showed that it was a mile and a half long running through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea, all the way up to Hell’s Kitchen near the Javits Convention Center. That’s when I first realized the whole extent of it.
I assumed someone would be working to preserve it. I called around and thought the American Institute of Architects or the Municipal Arts Society would be working on this. So many things in New York have preservation groups attached to them. But pretty quickly I found no one was doing anything for the High Line and that it was actually going to be demolished. I heard the proposed demolition was on the agenda for a community board meeting in my neighborhood so I went to my first community board meeting ever and sat next to Joshua, who I didn’t know at the time. By the end of the meeting we realized everyone in the room was in favor of demolition except for us. So we exchanged business cards and we said, “Well why don’t we start something together?”
Early on, you and Joshua had a multi-faceted strategy to keep the dream alive, to prevent the Guiliani administration from tearing down the High Line. You focused on building community support, visually documenting the site, creating design visions of what could be, while finding powerful advocates in the city government and also filing lawsuits. Which aspects of the strategy, in retrospect, proved to be most critical to moving the High Line forward in those early days?
Josh and I get a lot of credit for this great strategy. I think the most important thing we did was start the project, and it allowed other people to come along and help us get it done. In some ways, it was an asset that neither Josh nor I was an architect, landscape architect, or city planner. It forced us to basically go to other people for help. Talking to people who are interested in starting their own kind of project, that’s always the point I try to make: The most important thing that they can do is just start something. That enables other people to come along and help them get it done.
People always ask, “What was the one most critical time or event?” There wasn’t. The project had so many different pieces — the political, the economic, real estate — that there wasn’t one specific thing that made a difference. There were a whole bunch of different things. One of the things that I think is very interesting and that really connected the landscape and the ultimate design of the High Line were the photographs by Joel Sternfeld.
When Josh and I went up there, we realized what was right there in the middle of Manhattan. I first fell in love with the High Line from the street. I loved the structure, the rivets, but then when I walked up there, there was a mile and a half of wildflowers running right through the city. That’s what I really fell in love with: the combination of this wild landscape on top of this industrial structure in the middle of the city. We knew most people were never going to see it like this so we took our snapshots which just didn’t look that great. They didn’t really capture the impact of it. So I got a photographer named Joel Sternfeld to go up there and over the next year, between 2000 to 2001, he took a few pictures in all four seasons. He ultimately published a book called, Walking the High Line, back in 2002. Josh and I think of him as the third co-founder because those photographs of the wild landscape are what really helped galvanize people. I realized the most effective way to bring people on board was to show them the photographs, talking less and taking more time for people to experience the High Line through the photographs. Joel’s images really made the case for the project.
In the beginning, we didn’t know what the High Line should ultimately look like. We didn’t know exactly what the design should be. We always thought the community and the city should decide what it should be. Over time, people coalesced around Joel’s photo and when you asked them, “What do you want the High Line to be?” they’d point to Joel’s photos and they’d say, “I want it to be like that.” In some ways, that was the biggest inspiration behind the design, Joel’s photos of the landscape.
Getting the Bloomberg administration behind the effort meant coming up with a solid economic feasibility study, which you had to raise lots of funds to do. The study came up with the idea of transferring developers’ air rights and rezoning the area for commercial development. As the High Line developed, it has helped spur literally billions of dollars of new property development with a number of buildings by many marquee architects going in. Was that part of the original plan?
It was. We knew that the High Line had to make economic sense in the long-run, so we realized that for some people pretty pictures weren’t enough. We also needed an economic impact study, which is a really powerful tool for people working on parks projects because landscape, park, and public space projects can have a tremendous economic impact. Too often people just rely on what it looks like to make the case.
Of the design teams you invited to participate in the competition you said, “If I could do it over again, I’d require a landscape architect to be in the lead.” Why?
I think it’s really important. In the beginning I didn’t feel that way. I thought it would make sense for an architect to be a lead, but this is truly a landscape project. There are some architectural problems, but one of my favorite quotes is from one of our architects, Ric Scofidio, who said his job was to save the High Line from architecture. We were lucky to have that kind of architect. But going back, it’s really a landscape issue. When I talked to architects about their concept it was all additives, about adding things to the High Line. Landscape architects are better at dealing with existing conditions. Landscape architects almost always have some existing conditions, whereas architects are used to beginning from scratch. The existing condition was so important to us and had such a deep connection with the history and what people fell in love with, and James Corner recognized that.
I can’t emphasize it enough: too many times, I’ve seen people doing public spaces mesmerized by architects. For better or worse, architects have a higher profile. Architects are the name brands in public spaces. How many landscape architects can the average person name? It’d be zero that are alive. But they know architects. However, I think that’s changing. James Corner, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Hargreaves. It’s starting to change, but I think it’s just so critical for people not to be mesmerized by the famous names of the architects. What is really needed is experience working with existing stuff.
You say that a line from the book, The Leopard, sums up really your design philosophy for the High Line. “If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” You had wanted to preserve the wild plants that had taken root on the abandoned tracks, but Piet Oudolf, a key part of the winning James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro team convinced you that you could create something as beautiful as the High Line in its natural state. How did the winning team change the High Line but keep it the same, preserving the idea of its natural state?
From the very beginning, they were arguing among themselves about this challenge of how do you keep what’s magic but at the same time create something new? What I liked is that they knew you couldn’t just preserve it exactly as is. That would be a mistake. If you just tried to keep it exactly as is, you would create some kind of Disney World version. It’s coming back to that quote: you need to create something new to preserve that magical feeling.
Going up there by yourself where you had private garden was magical but what the design team was able to create was an experience that is really better with people in it. It looks better with people in it. Now when I see pictures of just the High Line without any people, I realize it wasn’t as good. It’s really beautiful when you have people interacting with the new landscape of the High Line. Also, the High Line has this unique ability to make people look better. People just look better on the High Line. I think that the landscape enhances that, too. The plants are able to do that in a way I think it’s hard for buildings to do.
During the design competition you found James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro to be “avant-garde,” but dealing with details like bench width and comfort, they showed a “real practicality.” How did the landscape architects, architects, and garden designer work with you and Joshua to realize your vision for the details of the park?
One of the reasons that sometimes things would come back more expensive is that the contractors had never done the things the designers were looking to do. Like the stairways, they came back and it was incredibly expensive. The designers calculated that it would be just as cheap to crush Mercedes-Benz and have them be the stairs as what the contractors did. The contractors were offering these high estimates just because they hadn’t seen this before. It wasn’t what they normally saw. For example, our paving wasn’t normal. But at the end of the day it wasn’t that complicated. Our paving system is really pre-cast concrete planks, so it’s just fancy parking curbs done in an array of different forms. Our design team would work with the contractor to help them understand how it was not that complicated or different from things they’d done in the past.
A number of cities now seem ready to jump on the High Line bandwagon. However, some landscape architects and planners caution that given the High Line was community-driven, it can’t really be replicated. Any copies may succeed as an economic development engine, but these projects may not get any true buy-in from communities. Do you think the High Line’s success can be replicated?
There are certain projects I really like, which have their own integrity. A lot of them are generated by communities. There’s the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, which was originally based in the community and came from a few people who lived in the area. The Atlanta Beltline, which is a much bigger ambitious project, started as one student’s thesis. The Jersey Embankment right across the river is definitely a community-based project. A project has to have that spirit from below. I think the best ones are not trying to copy the High Line; they’re trying to be something new altogether. This is the test to determine success: whether they try to create something original just like the High Line did or not.
I have my personal goals for the High Line: one is that it’s a well-loved park by New Yorkers; two is that it gets better after Josh and I leave; and three (and most importantly) is that it inspires other people to start these kind of things — not just elevated rail lines, but any kind of project. You don’t have to have experience, you don’t have to have all the money, you don’t have to have the plans all set. We developed all those things over time. That’s what stymies a lot of people. They think, “Oh, I don’t have the experience,” or, “I don’t have the money.” Those things can come.
Well, you’ve just kind of answered the last question, but I’ll just throw it out there in case you have anything else to add. What advice would you have for other community groups trying to save and perhaps transform their local infrastructure and cultural assets, whatever they may be? What advice would you have for the landscape architects partnering with them?
There’s no perfect way to do it. The most important advice is just start it and experiment. Just try things. There’s no one specific path. There are multiple ways to get started. Now a great way to do these things and galvanize a project is Facebook. Start a Kickstarter account — I’ve seen that working a lot now. One of the really important things is to raise money. It also helps start building the community. Whether someone gives five dollars, five thousand, or five million dollars, when they give money they become more invested in the project. It’s literally skin in the game. It’s an important part of building an organization or a whole movement.
We had a lot of people donate their time and energy to this project before it got off the ground. By finding community groups that need help, landscape architects and architects can, in effect, create more clients for themselves. Landscape architects can donate their services, get involved in local spaces, or just create their own.
Image credits: (1) Robert Hammond / Image credit: Annie Schlechter, (2) A Railroad Artifact, 30th Street, May 2000 / Joel Sternfeld © 2000, (3) Looking East on 30th Street on a Morning in May, 2000 / Joel Sternfeld © 2000, (4) 23rd Street Lawn, the northern end of the 4,900-square-foot lawn peels up over West 23rd Street, looking West, toward the Hudson River. ©Iwan Baan, 2011, (5) A meandering pathway passes by old and new architecture in West Chelsea, between West 24th and West 25th Streets, looking South. ©Iwan Baan, 2011
Posted in Historic Preservation, Landscape Architecture, Public Spaces, Real Estate Development, Sustainable Materials, Urban Design, Urban Revitalization | Leave a Comment »
ASLA Communications Internship, Summer 2012
02/06/2012 by asladirt
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) seeks a full-time summer intern for an exciting project: The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C. This Web site, which will include both mobile-friendly version and a more robust online exhibition, will feature both well-known and up-and-coming landscape architects discussing what makes 50 landscapes within the nation’s capital compelling. The Web site is expected to launch in fall 2012.
Instead of offering yet another brochure for tourists, the site is designed to be a guide to both landscapes and design-thinking. The goal of the project is to educate the milion of visitors who come to D.C. about how landscape architects, designers of public spaces, critically evaluate the design of sites. Landscape architects will discuss the site plans, design details, interesting historic features, and sustainable design elements. Landscapes featured will include great works of landscape architects (the National Mall, Dumbarton Oaks), ecological landscapes, historic landscapes, and even post-industrial urban landscapes. Local D.C. residents and landscape architects and other design professionals are also target audiences for the site.
The summer intern will be expected to work full-time on this project from June through August.
The intern will research and write an introductory paragraph on the site’s history, using historical records and available books and Web sites; locate photographs, secure image credits, and add directional information for each site; coordinate outreach materials to ASLA members and aid in social media promotion; and directly interact with a number of leading landscape architects to gather their feedback on given sites and edit the text for publication.
Interns will also have the opportunity to attend educational and networking events at the National Building Museum, Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks, and other museums and think tanks in Washington, D.C. and write articles for ASLA publications including The Dirt blog and LAND newsletter.
- Current enrollment in a Master’s or PhD program in landscape architecture.
- Excellent writing skills. The intern must be able to write clearly for a general audience.
- Proven research skills and ability to quickly evaluate the quality and relevance of many different types of Web resources.
- Excellent interpersonal skills and ability to interact graciously with busy designers.
- Working knowledge of Photoshop, social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn), and Microsoft Office suite.
How to Apply:
Please e-mail resume, cover letter, and two writing samples by March 1 to Alice Klages, HR manager (firstname.lastname@example.org). Phone interviews with finalists will be conducted by mid-March, with a decision made by the beginning of April. The internship is paid, with a total stipend of $3,500 for the summer. ASLA can also work with the intern to ensure they receive academic credit.
Posted in Landscape Architecture, Opportunities | Leave a Comment »
A New Life for an Industrial Landscape in California
02/06/2012 by asladirt
California’s Burbank Water and Power (BWP), one of the first power companies in the U.S. to procure a major chunk of its power from renewable energy sources and develop an ambitious carbon reduction plan, is transforming its main campus from an ”industrial relic” into a “regenerative green space,” bringing the utility to the forefront of sustainable landscape design. The new landscape is among the 150 sites selected around the country to participate in the Sustainable Site Initiative (SITES) pilot program. Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm AHBE Landscape Architects was hired by BWP to create an ambitious ”EcoCampus.”
Already, the new campus has three of the 50 LEED Platinum buildings found in California, including its first super-sustainable warehouse. Beyond the buildings, though, the campus offers green roofs, which were designed to “reduce the urban heat island effect, help channel and filter storm water, and reduce the building’s air conditioning requirements;” water reclamation and filtration systems, and new employee green spaces carved out of a reclaimed substation.
The green roofs were installed across three buildings in the BWP campus. According to the utility, “the timing was perfect as our aging roof needed to be replaced.” Adding green roofs also saved the company, which is promoting energy conservation as a key cost savings measure, a bit of money themselves, some $14,000 annually.
AHBE Landscape Architects designed a number of filtration and stormwater capture systems that compliment each other. Green streets with permeable pavers and ”infiltration bump outs” along three city streets filter runoff before it enters the campus’ stormwater system, where it’s then captured by the built planters and trees set within silva cells, which enable the trees to grow taller. Roof runoff is filtered down to the landscape, where it’s used up by the greenery. “By California law, all projects are required to mitigate at least the first ¾ inches of rainfall. Thanks to the innovative technologies that AHBE has integrated into the design, the BWP EcoCampus already mitigates the first inch.” The end goal is zero runoff on site.
A substation structure was left in place, providing a repurposed outdoor meeting room. “The skeletal remains of the substation will soon be covered in living vines, creating a poignant juxtaposition of industry and environment.”
Calvin Abe, FASLA, President, of AHBE, made the case for transforming the utility’s industrial landscape into a productive one: “Landscape has a key role to play in the regeneration of our cities. Beyond the aesthetics, it can proactively counteract many of the problems that we face in urban environments.”
But their job was made a lot easier because their client’s vision is a bold one. Ron Davis, BWP General Manager, said: “BWP chose to do this to show that sustainability is not just about a single action or decision; it’s about the ripple effect that consistent, sustainable decisions can make. BWP’s EcoCampus is literally powered by innovation. We want this to cause a ripple.”
Watch a video about the BWP’s new campus.
Image credits: BWP
Posted in Landscape Architecture, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Design, Sustainable Materials, Water Management | Leave a Comment »
Frederick Law Olmsted Is Holding Us Back (There. I Said It.)
02/06/2012 by asladirt
This article is reprinted from the February issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.
I don’t mean to say that dear old Olmsted, our cherished hero, our symbolic leader, has been acting like an overbearing parent. Our problem with Frederick Sr. is something that we as landscape architects keep bringing on ourselves by clinging to him too stubbornly. We constantly use his image and throw around his famous name and perpetuate the notion to people who don’t know better that the name Olmsted is somehow synonymous with our profession. This is not helping our cause.
Nowadays, we need to promote ourselves as innovators who look ahead, who are capable of solving complex contemporary problems. By linking our image so closely to the archaic legacy of a man best known for creating bucolic 19th-century landscapes, we look rather irrelevant in that regard.
I recently skimmed through the past seven years of Landscape Architecture Magazine—from January 2005 to December 2011—curious to see how many issues made reference to Olmsted. Out of those 84 issues, he was discussed by name in 71 of them. And of the 13 issues that didn’t mention him directly, seven talked about Central Park in New York City, and two others mentioned the Olmsted Brothers firm. That is 80 out of 84—or 95 percent—of the most recent issues of our leading professional publication talking about Olmsted, his most famous work, or the second generation of his firm. That’s a lot of Olmsted.
Several of those references are admittedly in articles I have written for LAM, which makes me not a hypocrite but rather qualifies me all the more to raise the issue. I know firsthand how easy it is to lean on the crutch provided by a good Olmsted reference. If he’s in it, it’s got to be worth reading, right?
Our preoccupation with Olmsted stems from a chronic, debilitating inferiority complex that plagues our profession. We lament that laypeople confuse us with landscape designers and horticulturists, and we envy the greater visibility that architects enjoy. All of this contributes to a feeling of inadequacy. So given that we don’t have anyone else with Olmsted’s kind of public brand identity to throw out there the way architects name-drop Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Philip Johnson, and others, we make every effort to keep Olmsted in the conversation. The fear seems to be that if people stop talking about him, they stop talking about landscape architecture. I hate to say it, but there is some truth in that paranoia.
These days, the High Line is the biggest deal to have hit landscape architecture in a long time. It had the unique potential to even out the disparity in public perception between architecture and landscape architecture. The starry design competition and the universally loved project by James Corner Field Operations should have helped begin to cure our image woes. But something unexpected happened: The media and masses celebrated the opening and subsequent expansion of the project, but that conversation has to a large extent left out landscape architecture, at least outside our own circles.
Not too long ago I was flipping through the TV channels and saw the architect Elizabeth Diller being interviewed by Martha Stewart for a series titled Women With Vision. Diller is a principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects (DS+R), who were subconsultants to Corner’s office on the High Line. When Diller was discussing the project, she spoke appropriately about the importance of the site but then neglected to mention any role played by landscape architects. No James Corner. No Field Operations. No mention of Piet Oudolf, who helped with planting design, either.
New Yorkers don’t care who gets recognized for the High Line. They got a fabulous, transformative urban space that would make Olmsted proud (see how easily that reference just slips in there?). But it should matter deeply to landscape architects that Corner’s team receives its due credit. This type of work—reconceiving the urban realm—is a critical part of the present and future of our profession. And while media bits, such as an interview with Martha Stewart, may seem like fluff, they are important in determining what our stake in the game is going to be.
We hear and read all the time about how much the world is changing. Climate change, economic instability, ecological catastrophe, and societal shifts are forcing people to look at things in new ways. This has triggered a huge shift in the design world, too. Landscape and water issues drive the shaping of cities as never before. None of this is breaking news. Such a change in the worldview will naturally lead to significantly more work for landscape architects. It has to, right? But the reality is we can’t expect such things to just fall into our laps. Architects clearly see how the playing field is being tilted in our favor, and they aren’t happy about it. They will fight for their share of the action. Probably for most of ours too.
Architecture is embedded in the media and contemporary popular culture in ways we can only envy at this point, so its voice is much louder than ours. Architects can create buzz so the world clamors to see what Norman Foster and Frank Gehry are going to produce next, although it becomes less surprising as time goes on. We,