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Olmsted Scholar Feature: The Cultural Landscapes of Okhamandal, Gujarat, India

By Heena Gajjar, 2015 University Olmsted Scholar

Okhamandal in Gujarat, considered as one of the four holy sites across the Indian subcontinent, is facing drastic pressures of climate change leading to rising sea levels, salt ingress, desertification, unproductive land, and scarcity of water for drinking and farming. Its hertitage sites also face a severe threat from modern day development.

My graduate thesis project, Journeys in the Cultural Landscapes of Okhamandal, explores various site-specific design interventions to deal with the above issues. I propose an ecological framework model for heritage conservation with the aim of raising awareness about how harmony between nature and culture can be promoted through planning and design. Specifically the study is useful to:

  1. Understand the overlap between mythology and history in the making of cultural heritage in the Indian subcontinent
  2. Learn how ecological planning can contribute to heritage conservation
  3. Apply reclamation strategies for coastal erosion and salt ingress
okhamandal01Mapping of natural features and environmental disturbances

Okhamandal was formerly an island and is now a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, which lies between the desert and the sea. The name ‘Okhamandal’ derives from ‘Okha’ - the only and ‘Mandal’ - an island. The Hindu god Krishna established his kingdom in antiquity on this island. Upon his death, the sacred city of Dwarka was swallowed by the sea, a legend corroborated by underwater archaeological findings dating back to the 15th century BCE on the coastal edge of Okhamandal (Rao, 1999; Gaur, 2004).

Myth and history overlap in this landscape of immense cultural significance, and I see this as an opportunity to understand Krishna beyond a deity as an active, living divine consciousness that permeates the environment. I believe Krishna consciousness can help in re-establishing the link with the cosmic order that ensures the balance between nature and culture. Though considered complex in its linkage, if perceived in a sympathetic and holistic manner, the relationship can be interpreted as: nature, the primary force or the cosmic order governing our existence, and culture as a collective set of norms that shape the landscape. Together nature and culture define the landscape and are responsible for our evolution and sustenance.

okhamandal02Design for sea edge condition to mitigate coastal erosion and water level rise. Floating deck with periscope allows visitors to view the underwater archaeological discoveries.

In projecting a future for reclamation and heritage conservation of Okhamandal, I studied landscape processes and documented sacred and archaeological sites. The biggest issue of the region is salt ingress increasing at a rate of 30 hectare per year. Salt intrusion has a direct relationship with groundwater that is depleting at significantly high rate. My design proposals would help to replenish ground water and hold rain water in reclaimed ponds and wetlands. I propose floating green islands to reduce the impact of sea waves and prevent coastal erosion and mangrove edge as a permeable layer to mitigate the rising sea level. The main intention is to educate, encourage and empower the local communities and pilgrims visiting the place.

okhamandal03A vision of a reclaimed Okhamandal

The full project report can be accessed at:

Heena Gajjar is in her final year of study toward a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. This is her graduate thesis project. In summer 2015, Heena participated in the SWA Summer Student Program and worked in the Dallas and San Francisco offices.  

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Revitalizing Colon, Panama's Second City

By Kendra Hyson, 2015 University Olmsted Scholar

Located 64 kilometers (40 miles) north of Panamá City, lies Colón - Panamá’s “Second City” and the Atlantic port entrance to the Panamá Canal. Originally commissioned as a way station to California during the gold rush, Colón is the Atlantic terminal entrance to one of the world’s most important trade routes. Colón has and continues to act as a hub of trade for the country and embodies a distinct cultural connection to the African diaspora that makes this city a notable piece in the Panamanian mosaic. Formerly a marsh coral island that has since been infilled, Colón illustrates an eclectic blend of architectural styles reminiscent of the city’s development and history as a conduit for international trade.

Politically and domestically Panamá is enjoying a time of prosperity with improved infrastructure and peaceful democracy. Yet, despite the country’s positive growth and the success of the Colón Free Zone (CFZ), the city of Colón still struggles to keep up with neighboring Panamá City. Racial discrimination, corruption, drug-related violence, extreme disparities of wealth, perennial flooding, and failing infrastructure are consistent challenges affecting the city of Colón and, more importantly, the people. Great prospects for successful revitalization of the city’s infrastructure and economy exist for Colón, if only given the attention and investment it deserves.

colon02Historic Maison Blanche structure, Colón, 2012 (Image: Daniestrada01,

With an emphasis on connectivity, economic viability, green infrastructure and cultural resilience, my culminating master’s report attempted to develop a revitalization strategy for the city with the hopes of providing Colón with the opportunities evident in the thriving Panamá City. This project sought to demonstrate the immense impact of landscape architectural practices and strategies on the multilayered challenges that urban environments are met with daily, highlighting a few of the tools necessary for Colón to ultimately enhance its livelihood and quality of life for residents and visitors.

The final master plan showcases a pedestrian only promenade and anchoring waterfront on the western coast of the peninsula, allowing for increased connectivity, safety and walkability through the center of the city. The western waterfront and existing cruise ship terminal provide fixed amenities at either end of the corridor, encouraging greater pedestrian traffic east/west. The promenade bisects a large “conjunto” or housing project in the city that is currently plagued with crime and dilapidated infrastructure. Improved housing and outdoor space for existing residents were provided for in the master plan, along with an arts district, outdoor gallery, splash pad, gardens and other flexible spaces to aid in the city’s revitalization.

colon03The broad strokes of design applied in this project will hopefully inspire deeper exploration of Colón, ultimately supporting efforts to improve the city and, more importantly, the lives of the people who call it home. Colón has a rich history and wealth of culture that needs and deserves protection. The design interventions suggested in this project have only just begun to scratch the surface of what could be done in Colón.

To see the full Second City - Leveling the Playing Field: An Urban Revitalization Plan for Colón, Panamá, visit: 

Kendra Hyson completed her Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Arizona in May. She recently relocated to her hometown of Washington, DC to pursue her career in landscape architecture. Currently, she works for the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation developing educational programming geared towards enhancing youth interest in sustainable design.

LAF Research Initiatives Win Two 2015 ASLA Professional Awards


Two of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s signature programs have been honored with American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) 2015 Professional Awards, which recognize top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications, and research projects from across the U.S. and around the world. This year, ASLA received 459 entries for these prestigious awards.

The Landscape Performance Series received the 2015 Award of Excellence in Communications, the highest honor in this category. The Landscape Performance Series was developed to build capacity to achieve sustainability and transform the way landscape is valued in the design and development process. Redesigned and launched in 2014 as, this unparalleled platform showcases the measurable environmental, social, and economic benefits of landscape and has become a go-to place to find design precedents, show value, and make the case for sustainable landscape solutions.

                                   “It’s a living document essential to our profession.”
                                                              — 2015 Awards Jury

LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program received a 2015 Honor Award in Research, co-presented by ASLA and the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches faculty-student research teams with leading design practitioners to measure and document the performance of their built projects as Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs. To date, 30 faculty, 35 students, and 57 design firms have participated, resulting in the publication of over 100 case studies.

                       “The more we say that measuring performance over the long haul
                                    is part of what we do, the more it’s going to happen.”
                                                              — 2015 Awards Jury

“We are thrilled to see our research programs achieve this level of recognition in the profession.” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA. “Our work to promote landscape performance is changing the way landscape architects practice and the way others understand and appreciate the value of landscape solutions.”

The awards will be presented at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in Chicago on Monday, November 9 at McCormick Place. The complete list of award winners — along with project information, images, and criteria — can be viewed at:

Animation Wins Competition to Communicate the Impact of #landarch on Well-Being

Congratulations to Lovisa Kjerrgren, who won the 2015 Wayne Grace Memorial Student Competition with her short animation entitled “Pretty Heroic.” The competition and its $10,000 USD prize was sponsored by the Landscape Architectural Registration Boards Foundation. Entrants had to develop a communications piece that effectively conveys the vital role that landscape architects play in protecting and enhancing the public’s well-being, as identified in the “Definition of Welfare” research conducted by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB).

In the winning animation, the characters’ lives are enhanced by the work done by landscape architects, shown wearing capes in one scene. From the dialogue:

“Landscape architects may not have super powers, but they have the knowledge, skills and passion it takes to design environments that promote the welfare of you and your fellow members of the public for today and the future, and that is pretty heroic.”


kjerrgren-150wWinner Lovisa Kjerrgren

Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, Lovisa recently graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. When asked how she settled on landscape architecture as a career, she said, “For me, it’s all about the dynamic combination of having the elements of art and creativity and marrying that with science, knowing that this really relates to people’s lives and the environment we live in.” Lovisa said the biggest challenge in creating the animation was scaling it back to be concise without losing the message she wanted to deliver.

LAF was honored to serve on the five-member jury of landscape architecture and communications professionals who unanimously selected Kjerrgren’s entry as the winner. The jury members were:

  • Stephanie Landregan, FASLA, LARBF Chair and CLARB Past President
  • Kenneth Backman, FASLA, LARBF Past Chair, CLARB Past President
  • Terry Poltrack, Director of Public Relations and Communications, American Society of Lanscape Architects
  • Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, Executive Director, Landscape Architecture Foundation
  • Jim Brown, Trail Development Manager, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (and 2012 LAF Olmsted Scholar)

New Resources to Teach Landscape Performance


Attention landscape architecture faculty preparing for the upcoming schoolyear: The Resources for Educators section of now features materials from 10 university landscape architecture courses that incorporate landscape performance. The materials include syllabi, reading lists, assignments, sample student work, and faculty reflections on their pedagogical approaches and experiences teaching landscape performance. Whether you are looking to devote a class period to landscape performance or use it as an organizing theme for the entire semester, these teaching materials provide you with some tried and tested models.

The course materials were developed through LAF’s Landscape Performance Education Grants, a program that offers $2,500 mini-grants to faculty to develop and test ways to integrate landscape performance into standard landscape architecture course offerings. Five new courses were recently added from the faculty members that participated during the Spring 2015 term. They include studio, seminar, and lecture courses, ranging from introductory to advanced.

Many landscape architecture faculty are already teaching performance in some capacity, and the concept is being increasingly embraced in academia and practice:

“In my opinion, students graduating with a landscape architecture degree must have exposure to the theories and methods regarding landscape performance, including aesthetic and ecosystem service contributions, in order to become responsible and effective designers.”
            — Kofi Boone, Associate Professor, North Carolina State University

Students also see tremendous benefit to being exposed to performance in their landscape architecture coursework:

“Learning about performance landscapes is beneficial to our education, and I think it should be taught more due to the state of our planet. If I had to critique any aspect of our performance studio it would be that I wish we could have done more with it. There need to be more non-studio classes addressing landscape performance.”
          — Wayne Nemec, Third-Year BLA Student, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

LAF is committed to helping the next generation of design professionals obtain the knowledge and technical skills they need to measure and communicate the environmental, economic, and social impact of landscape solutions. The Landscape Performance Education Grants were made possible with support from the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute’s Foundation for Education & Research. A total of ten $2,500 grants were awarded in 2014 and 2015. LAF is actively pursuing funding and sponsorships to be able to continue the program in future years.