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Sustainable Destination: New York City

LAF’s 2012 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes raised over $12,000 to support the Foundation’s reseach and scholarhip programs and featured a one-of-a-kind prize: a trip to New York City with a day of private tours led by Michael Van Valkenburgh and staff. The winner, Ashley Brenden, a Site Designer at SmithGroupJJR in Phoenix, was selected from over 175 entries. Ashley made the trip in March to celebrate getting her MLA from Arizona State University, and she shared the following report about her experience:

sweepstakes-nyc1Tour guides Michael Van Valkenburgh and Laura Solano with Ashley and Scott in front of Teardrop Park's Ice-Water Wall

“We cannot thank LAF and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) enough for the wonderful trip to NYC! My fiance Scott and I spent five days exploring every part of the city we could, meeting new friends, and finding unique old and new landscape architecture gems at every turn.”

“The tour day with team members from MVVA was certainly one we will never forget. We started our day meeting Michael Van Valkenburgh and principal Laura Solano at Teardrop Park. The park embodies the complexity of sustainable design and the need for sustainability to be interlaced in all processes of design, construction, and maintenance practices. Sustainable design elements included stormwater management techniques, water reuse, use of recycled content and local materials, and a site-specific plant palette.”

sweepstakes-nyc2MVVA's Jason Siebenmorgen and Matthew Urbanski lead Ashley and Scott through Brooklym Bridge Park.

“The tour continued with other members of the MVVA team, who walked us through the intricacies of the design of Javits Plaza, Hudson River Park, Union Square Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. Scott and I got to see first-hand how these projects contribute to a sustainable social and environmental network. We are so grateful for the time Michael Van Valkenburgh, Laura Solano, Steeve Noone, Matt Urbanski, Jason Siebenmorgen, and Marisa Rodriguez spent with us.”

During their five days in New York, Ashley and Scott stayed at the Element Times Square West, an eco-chic hotel with green features ranging from 100% recycled content floors to shampoo and bodywash dispensers rather than wasteful mini-bottles. They enjoyed some wonderful local restaurants and even took in a Broadway show. Towards the end of the trip, Ashley and Scott went to Long Beach, Long Island to work with All Hands Volunteers on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

all-handsAshley and Scott worked on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts on Long Island with All Hands Volunteers.

“This organization has been a favorite of mine, and the trip offered a perfect opportunity to join in reconstruction efforts. A discussion on sustainability wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the resiliency of our culture and the role that organizations like All Hands play in creating a sustainable system. When, as designers, we create space — be it a park or a home or a community square — we contribute to its sustainability by providing opportunities for people to find meaning and connection in and with these spaces. This meaning often translates to people safeguarding these spaces from destruction and rebuilding after damage.”

“The day of volunteering offered us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the many sustainable social and environmental elements of the MVVA projects we visited. Not only has MVVA designed beautiful public open space, but the firm and the community have demonstrated a deep investment in these spaces. MVVA has shown a commitment to implement current sustainable design methods while simultaneously discussing ways to ensure future resiliency against natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.”

Special thanks to MVVA for generously providing this prize package. LAF’s 2013 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes will kick off soon, using a similar model of designer-led tours. A second clue about the destination city: it is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. — more populous now that at any point in its history — despite being one of the cloudiest.

Sustainable Destination: Napa

Last October, 2011 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes winner Keith Wagner, FASLA traveled to OLIN’s Carneros Inn, a vineyard oasis located between the Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California. Keith and his wife, Sara, shared this report from their trip:

sara-keithKeith and Sara enjoy Napa Valley wines and local fare at PRESS Restaurant.

“The Carneros Inn was a quintessential California experience — it had a down-to-earth and luxurious feeling all at once that perfectly suited our aesthetic. The buildings and public spaces take advantage of the view corridors in every direction, and in October, the fall colors under blue skies enhanced every well-designed moment with nature’s surrounding texture.”

“Our 18-month-old son, Hudson, enjoyed the vacation every bit as much as we did, watching cows roaming around the outskirts, smelling the flowers around the vegetable garden, and delighting in the occasional hot air balloon sighting over the hills. Hudson was at the perfect age for inspecting the water collection system, which presented a great strategy for reusing rain water throughout the campus.”

hudson-irrigationHudson inspects the Carneros Inn irrigation.

“We were lucky to be able to schedule our visit in tandem with Keith’s business partner, Jeff Hodgson and his partner Paul. The group of us took day trips to nearby wineries. In the evenings we had a babysitting service recommended by the Inn and took advantage of the famed Napa Valley restaurants, including the Inn’s Boon Fly Café, PRESS, and Farmstead. We also made sure to spend some time relaxing poolside (sited beautifully by OLIN) and spent a morning getting spa treatments.” 

“The Carneros Inn was an amazing place to vacation with both our 18-month-old and with friends — we couldn’t have asked for a better time in a majestic setting. It has continued to inspire us. Our deepest gratitude to OLIN and the Landscape Architecture Foundation!”


Keith is a partner at Burlington, Vermont-based H. Keith Wagner Partnership Landscape Architects. Sara Katz is an artist, who captured the wonderful fall colors of the Napa region in a painting (shown at left). Ketih’s name was drawn from nearly 200 sweepstakes entries, which raised over $12,000 to support LAF’s research and scholarship programs. Special thanks to OLIN for generously providing this prize package.

Details on LAF’s 2013 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes are coming soon. A clue: The destination city is home to is the longest continuously operating farmer’s market in the U.S. and has been ranked as the nation’s most literate.

2012 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes Winner Announced

Ashley Brenden of Phoenix, Arizona has won the one-of-a-kind trip for two to New York City in LAF’s Fourth Annual Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes. Ashley’s name was selected from the 178 entrants whose donations helped raise nearly $12,000 to support LAF’s research and scholarship programs. The prize package features a day of private tours led by Michael Van Valkenburgh and staff to five MVVA-designed sustainable landscape projects: Jacob Javits Plaza, Teardrop Park, Hudson River Park (Segment 5), Union Square Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

“I’m still in a bit of shock that I won this incredible trip to New York City — it is certainly one of the most amazing opportunities presented to me. I look forward to exploring the City, Central Park and also the work of one of our most talented modern-day landscape architects,” said Ashley who is a Site Designer at SmithGroupJJR in Phoenix and an MLA student at Arizona State University. “We plan on going in March to enjoy the wonderful spring weather and to celebrate graduating from the Master’s program — I can’t think of a more perfect way to celebrate joining the field!”

2012-sweepstakes-winnerAshley Brenden (center) is congratulated by LAF Development Manager Matt Alcide and Office Manager Emily DeDad.

Ashley happened to be nearby in the ASLA EXPO Hall when the sweepstakes drawing took place on Sept 30 in Phoenix. She was brought to the LAF booth, where LAF Board members were onhand to announce the good news. “When I was told I won, I actually thought it was a joke! I thought all the cameras and people were just a prank or that maybe they wanted to ask me questions about why I donated. It took me about 5 minutes to register what the Board members had said.”

Ashley was one of a number of SmithGroupJJR employees who helped LAF by providing on-the-ground assistance and volunteer support for the LAF Annual Benefit and other events in Phoenix. She chose to donate because of the people she met through this experience. “After meeting all these generous and kind LAF staff and board members I knew that contributing to an organization that is doing so much to help the field was important.” 

LAF truly appreciates the support of all who participated in the sweepstakes and sends a special thank you to Michael Van Valkenburg and Associates for providing the unique prize package. Stay tuned for information about our 2013 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes — the location will be announced in February with registration beginning in June.

LAF Events at the ASLA Annual Meeting

If you’ll be in Phoenix for the ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO, we hope you’ll join us for one or more of the following events to support and raise awareness about LAF programs. We’ll celebrate the fifth year of our acclaimed Olmsted Scholars Program, showcase the new resources in the Landscape Performance Series , and promote the 2013 Case Study Investigation (CSI) progam.

lafatasla1Sonoran Celebration, LAF’s 27th Annual Benefit
Fri, Sept 28, 7:00-10:30pm
Join top designers and leaders from practice, academia, and industry for a vibrant and memorable evening at the Phoenix Art Museum. Enjoy cocktails, fine food, and live music all while raising money for LAF’s research and scholarship programs. We’ll celebrate the fifth year of LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program by recognizing the 2012 scholars and $25,000 winner, catching up with past Scholars, and making a special announcement about the program’s future.

lafatasla2LAF Booth in ASLA Expo Hall (#446)
Sat-Sun, Sept 29-30, 9:00-5:00pm
Visit our booth to learn more about LAF, register for the Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes, meet the 2012 Olmsted Scholars, and learn how you can participate in our 2013 Case Study Investiga- tion (CSI) program to document the benefits of high-performing landscape projects. On Sunday, we’ll be conducting video interviews, so come prepared to share your thoughts for inclusion in our Conversations with Leaders in Landscape series - we’d especially like to hear from past Board members, scholarship winners, and research grantees.sweepstakes-e-announce

Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes
Sun, Sept 30, 4:30pm
Join us at our booth in the ASLA Expo Hall as we announce the winner of our one-of-a-kind trip for two to New York City, featuring a day of private tours led by Michael Van Valkenburgh and staff. You can make a donation to register to win right up until the drawing. Entrants need not be present to win. All sweepstakes proceeds support LAF’s research and scholarship programs.

aslaedsessionAssessing Performance Education Session
Mon, Oct 1, 8:00-9:30am
Don’t miss Assessing the Performance of Landscape Projects presented by LAF’s Heather Whitlow, Kurt Culbertson of Design Workshop, and Bill Wenk of Wenk Associates. Learn methods and tools to identify and quantify performance benefits based on two years of success, challenges, and lessons from the Landscape Performance Series and Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. Then hear how Design Workshop and Wenk Associates are using landscape performance in their respective practices to set goals, develop design strategies, assess the effectiveness of designs, and show value of landscape solutions to clients and other stakeholders.

2011 Sweepstakes Winner Returns from China Trip

Last fall, Cara Smith, ASLA of Alexandria, Virginia won LAF’s 2011 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes and an all-expense-paid, week-long trip for two to EDSA’s Crosswaters Ecolodge & Spa located in the Nankun Mountain Reserve in Guangdong Province, China. She traveled to the resort in April with her boyfriend Brian, also a landscape architect, and had the following trip report. The two also compiled a slide show capturing their experiences.

crosswaterstrip1“While this was my first time in China, I think it is safe to say that the visitor experience at Crosswaters Ecolodge is highly unique to the region, if not the country. Brian and I were able to extend our stay in China for a second week to travel north to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing, and though our time to explore was limited, in none of these places did we find or appreciate a similar kind of eco-luxury or very much ‘eco’-mindedness at all.”

“At Crosswaters we could connect the dots between people, place, and natural processes — we could see the garden from which our dinner was plucked; hike through a bamboo forest knowing that this local material played a major role in sustaining the community, as well as providing us with a stunningly crafted villa for seven nights; and we could and fall asleep to the sound of chirping frogs and a churning river just feet away. Crosswaters was the first ecotourism destination in China, after all, and it sets the bar high. (The luxury resorts that seem to be taking over a neighboring valley in Guangzhou pale in comparison.)”

crosswaterstrip2“The sustainable design philosophy, spearheaded by an ecotourism development company and  EDSA, resonates throughout the site. Crosswaters is nestled in a valley surrounded by bamboo forest, so the connection between architecture and the environment is quite clear. Bamboo is used extensively and elegantly in the architecture, as are river rock and reclaimed materials, such as roof tiles. The architectural details are stunning — from the delicately woven bamboo screen covering the roof inside of the villa, to the intricate river rock-studded medallions in the walkways. We learned that collaboration with the local Keija people living in the Nankun Shan Mountain Reserve was a priority from the very beginning of the design process, and they were involved in its construction, incorporating local building methods and learning new ones to take back with them. Principles of feng shui played a role in the site design, and though I am not well versed in feng shui, I can attest that there was an uncanny sense of balance, peace, and harmony flooding the space, much like the daily fog, that rose and sank over the valley.”

crosswaterstrip3“The staff at Crosswaters treated us like royalty.  They made sure that our tea cups were never empty and made every effort to keep us comfortable, entertained, and happy. The reception manager even took us on our own private tour of the local town and surrounding parks. Restaurant staff was extremely patient when it came time for us to order our meals, and we could not have been more pleased with the Cantonese and Hakka cuisines they prepared.”

“Needless to say, we are still riding the high of probably one of the best vacations we have ever had, and cannot thank LAF and EDSA enough for this opportunity. I believe that this experience will stay with me for a long time and provide a wealth of inspiration professionally, personally, and spiritually.”

Cara, a 2010 graduate of Virginia Tech’s MLA program, works for the firm Lardner/Klein Landscape Architects in Alexandria, VA. Cara’s name was drawn from nearly 200 sweepstakes entries, which raised over $12,000 to support LAF’s research and scholarship programs. Special thanks to EDSA for generously providing this prize package. Look for details on LAF’s 2012 Sustainable Destination Sweepstakes soon.