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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Biodiversity and Design

By Olivia Fragale, 2016 Olmsted Scholar Finalist


I moved to Cape Town, South Africa in 2012 to pursue a position as Assistant Researcher and Outreach Educator with the Iimbovane Project at the Department of Science and Technology - National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University. This research position involved monitoring and cataloging the species richness and diversity of native and invasive ant species of the Western Cape Providence through field sampling and lab work. My interest in studying ants was to understand the correlation between human settlement patterns and the impact this has on biodiversity.


The importance of this study was to look at the system beyond the ant. Within the Cape Floristic Region, ants play a significant role in dispersing seeds. Our team discovered a positive correlation between native ant populations and native plant growth and diversity. Sites with a high population of invasive species demonstrated a lack of native plant growth. I was drawn in by the various scales of the study. At a microscale, I was studying ants, but at the macroscale, the ant-plant mutualism relationship was about the interconnected dependencies of an ecosystem. Loss of seed production impacted seed distribution, which impacted native plant growth which impacted soil conditions, therefore increasing erosion as well as changing availability of resources in the food web. These early research endeavors in the study of biodiversity have helped shape my thinking as a designer and my aspirations to strengthen the connection between science and the design professions.


As a recent graduate of the Boston Architectural College, I am interested in the integration of relevant and current research in biodiversity into current professional practice. When thinking about our role as landscape architects, I look at the strategies used to safeguard biodiversity, including designs that:

  • Minimize and manage habitat disruption

  • Reclaim, restore, and reconnect significant ecosystems

  • Have integrated management plans to control invasive species

  • Focus on rehabilitation of contaminated soils to reintroduce positive ecological systems

  • Establish riparian buffers to protect aquatic ecosystems

This list of strategies is something to be proud of, but I believe as knowledgeable designers, we can strengthen our understanding by performing and contributing to research that is focused on monitoring biodiversity at various sites and on various scales. We have the ability to gather baseline data about urban biodiversity, standardize methods, and perform comparison studies that start to articulate and encourage the functions and benefits of designing with diversity.

So how do we measure biodiversity and how can the produced data become integrated into how we design and manage our spatial relationships? Well, biodiversity can be measured at a species level, an ecosystem level, and at the genetic level. Methods vary in their ability to reveal information about richness, evenness, rarity, disparity, and variability. In the field of ecology, the most common methods for measuring species biodiversity are the Simpson Index and the Shannon Index. Currently the Sustainable Sites Initiative and the LAF’s Landscape Performance Series and Benefits Toolkit have identified methods for measuring vegetation and biodiversity, which include the Biomass Density Index (BDI), LEED baseline information which focuses on calculating average values for regional evapotranspiration rates, species factor, density factor, and microclimate factor for each vegetation types. Collecting data and establishing measuring systems for biodiversity can inform our designs, manage our spatial relationships, and respond to scientific trends.

I am excited to participate in the collection and evaluation of valuable biodiversity data and contribute to the advancement of biodiversity-directed design strategies through the lens of my proposed research project that focuses on the relationship between biodiversity and biomimicry wastewater technologies. I believe the design of nature-inspired, living technologies is a powerful tool to align communities with the regenerative capacities of the plant’s life-supporting ecosystems. More specifically, living systems can be monitored to further understand how biodiversity is being recovered, established, and linked back into the community’s health, economic, and cultural experiences.

In my next blog post, I will elaborate on my proposed project and explore, at the community level, the important relationship between biodiversity and biomimicry wastewater technologies and how its diverse application can reveal and expose systems as they relate to human development and biological existence.

Olivia completed her MLA from Boston Architectural College in May and now works at Terraink in Arlington, Massachusetts.  While she is focused on transitioning into her new job, she looks forward to future project development.  In the meantime, she continues to pursue her project interests through continued dialogue with the research groups in South Africa and has another visit planned for 2017.

Upcoming Webinar to Highlight Landscape Architecture Careers in the Federal Government


Have you ever considered a career in the federal government? Agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and General Services Administration influence what happens on millions of acres of land. From designing national parks and government facilities to shaping national policy, these agencies benefit from the unique perspective and expertise of landscape architects.

On Sept 15, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) are hosting a free webinar highlighting the exciting opportunities for landscape architects to work in the federal government.

Landscape Architects in Federal Service
Thurs, Sept 15, 2:00-3:15pm ET
Register Now

The webinar is geared toward landscape architecture students and recent graduates. Landscape architects working in the U.S. Forest Service and the Smithsonian Institution will provide an overview of their day-to-day work, including their leadership roles and the range of projects and policies they work on. The speakers will also discuss pathways to entering a career in federal service.


  • Matt Arnn, ASLA, Chief Landscape Architect, U.S. Forest Service
  • Jennifer Daniels, ASLA, Senior Landscape Architect, Smithsonian National Zoological Park
  • Jesse English, ASLA, Regional Landscape Architect/Recreation Planner, U.S. Forest Service
  • Logan Free, ASLA, Presidential Management Fellow, U.S. Forest Service
  • Emily Lauderdale, ASLA, Presidential Management Fellow, U.S. Forest Service

2016 Landscape Performance Education Grant Recipients Announced


As landscape architects increasingly engage in addressing complex challenges like climate change, urbanization, and public health, it is critical that they be able to communicate the measurable benefits of design solutions.

This year the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board (LAAB) included “landscape performance” and many measurement-related requirements its revised LAAB Accreditation Standards for all bachelor’s and master’s level landscape architecture programs. In their training, students must now learn skills necessary to predict outcomes, assess alternatives, defend design proposals, and evaluate environmental, social, and economic performance of landscape projects.

To help university landscape architecture programs integrate landscape performance into their curriculum, LAF’s Landscape Performance Education Grants allow select university faculty to develop and test models in standard courses. Their teaching materials and reflections are then shared through the Resources for Educators section of LAF’s

For the Fall 2016 semester/term, five $2,500 mini-grants were awarded for the following courses:

  • Kenneth Brooks, FASLA, FCELA, PLA, Arizona State University
    Design Research Methods (MLA/Interdisciplinary Research Methods)
    A traditional lecture course that explores a range of research methods, techniques and strategies applied to the enterprise and advancement of design. The class is a required core course for 85 graduate students in professional design programs of architecture (MArch), interior architecture (MIA), industrial design (MID), landscape architecture (MLA), visual communications design (MVCD) and urban design (MUD).This course is designed to give Design and other students an intellectual framework and experience in conceptualizing, conducting and applying research methods and strategies that will permit them to advance the knowledge base and practice capabilities of designers and problem-solvers. A primary focus of the course is cultivating scholarship, inquiry and evaluation that enhances and enriches the effectiveness and performance practice of professional design.
  • Brad Collett, ASLA, RLA, LEED AP, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    Operative Landscapes (MLA Seminar)
    Contemporary challenges posed by urbanization, climate dynamics, evolving economies and social paradigms have changed the demands we place on the designed landscape. Landscape architects in North America and around the world have risen to this challenge, revealing new possibilities for the economic, social and environmental performance of landscapes in public, private and infrastructural territories. Operative Landscapes examines the historical contexts and emergent theory driving this shift in the practice of landscape architecture, and surveys contemporary projects as a basis for understanding multi-scalar design approaches, technical details and maintenance regimes. An emphasis is placed on built landscapes and living systems as integral parts of site stormwater management approaches and regional water resource infrastructure.
  • Kirk Dimond, MLA, LEED AP, University of Arizona
    Site Engineering (MLA Site Engineering)
    Site Engineering for landscape architects requires students to develop the comprehension and skills necessary to maintain health, safety, and welfare through the manipulation of topography and water. To reinforce this, knowledge objectives with associated performance measures, organized under the four natural elements of earth, water, fire and air, will challenge students to develop technical competency through lectures and exercises that also provide the means to measure and evaluate their decisions through understanding landscape performance.  Culmination of the material is tested in a comprehensive final project requiring a full grading plan that demonstrates evidence of responsible design decisions.
  • Joseph Ragsdale, ASLA, FAAR, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
    Design Theory and Exploration Focus Studio (BLA Studio)
    This third and fourth year vertical studio links technical competencies with design explorations and applied landscape architecture theory studies.  For sites located on the university campus, students will establish current performance criteria and metrics, propose design ideas in connection with an updated master plan, and evaluate changes in performance metrics of proposed design solutions.  The course is structured around three activities, a technical module focusing on landscape performance, a design module emphasizing design exploration and a theory seminar reinforcing contemporary landscape architecture theory.
  • Rebekah VanWieren, MLA, MS, Montana State University
    Advanced Landscape Design Studio: Landscape Design Scenarios for Water Conservation in the Middle Rockies (Landscape Design BS Studio)
    This studio will integrate landscape performance principles and metrics with a design project for the City of Bozeman, Water Conservation Division. Students will analyze the ecology and lifecycle of designing landscapes through field explorations around four themes: water, vegetation and soil, energy, and human health and well-being. These findings will be applied to design performance alternatives for water resource resiliency in the semi-arid West.

Over the last three years, LAF has awarded a total of $37,500 in Landscape Performance Education Grants to university faculty with five mini-grants awarded each year.

Award Recipients Honored at LAF’s 50th Anniversary Celebration and Dinner


On June 10 at LAF’s 50th Anniversary Celebration and Dinner at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, LAF recognized first recipients of its new LAF Medal and Founders’ Awards. With Independence Mall as the backdrop, Dennis Carmichael, FASLA, Chair of the 2016 Award Committee presented the two awards before the crowd of 450 LAF friends and supporters.

Grant Jones, FASLA, co-founder of Jones & Jones Architecture and Landscape Architecture, took the stage to receive the first LAF Medal, which is conveyed to a landscape architect for distinguished work over a career in applying the principles of sustainability to landscapes. As the keynote speaker at the dinner, Grant delivered an inspiring speech full of history, wisdom, hope, and charges for the future.

“The Earth is our client, our partner in a life relationship. The landscape is not a fuzzy, vague or indefinable thing; it’s as real as your mother and father, and it’s got to be everything to you.”
grantjonesrecipient-530wGrant Jones receives the first LAF Medal from Awards Commitee Chair Dennis Carmichael.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) received the first LAF Founders’ Award, which is conveyed to a firm, agency, or organization that demonstrates a significant commitment to preserving, creating, or enhancing landscapes over a sustained period of time. ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville accepted the award and then turned the tables, issuing a Philadelphia-style proclamation from the ASLA Board of Trustees expressing its sincerest appreciation to the Landscape Architecture Foundation in celebration of its 50 years.

proclamation-530wASLA's CEO Nancy Somerville and President Chad Danos deliver a Philadelphia-style proclamation.

LAF was so honored to recognize these innovators that have made a significant and sustained contribution to the LAF mission of supporting the preservation, improvement and enhancement of the environment.

Mpre photos from LAF’s 50th Anniversary Celebration and Dinner can be found at:


That's a Wrap! LAF Summit Draws over 700

Thank you to all who attended The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future on June 10-11. (And to the 75 presenters and panelists who worked hard to prepare the thought-provoking content!) With 715 attendees coming from as far away as China, Argentina and Australia, the event surpassed all expectations!

eo7i4493-530wLAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch welcomes attendees to the Summit.

Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, the Summit featured 25 “Declarations” from key thought leaders and nine thematic panels, taking a hard look at whether the landscape architecture profession has fulfilled its promise and how it can effect change looking forward to the next 50 years.

Overarching themes of humanism, interdependence, and concern regarding climate change ran through most of the declarations and discussions. Other common themes were the increasing importance of cities; how landscape architecture can contribute to managing and preserving vital resources like water, food and biodiversity; the importance of integrating communities into the design process; and how to communicate the value of landscape architecture to the broad public.

eo7i5589-530wAesthetics Panel with Ken Smith, Maria Goula, Chris Reed, Mikyoung Kim, Claude Cormier, and Adam Greenspan

A few highlights from the two days include:

  • James Corner of Field Operations stressed that with continued population growth, cities are the future and will demand new organizational frameworks. Landscape architects are well positioned to lead because they see the city as a kind of dynamic ecosystem and can go further than planners and engineers by striving to embed beauty, desire, and pleasure into the system.
  • Kate Orff of SCAPE declared that she is “interested in making publics, not projects.” She emphasized that landscapes can be a pilot for physical and social change if designers invest in building ecological constituencies and community capacity.
  • Mario Schjetnan of Grupo de Diseño Urbano in Mexico City called landscape architecture to a global perspective, as most of the urban expansion and environmental deterioration is happening in the so-called developing nations.
  • Nina-Marie List of Ryerson University asked what will become of wilderness, wild things, and the wild in man as we continue on this relentless trajectory of global urbanization. She asserted that “E.O. Wilson’s half earth movement is a blunt instrument that needs designers.”
  • Blaine Merker of Gehl Studio emphasized happiness and sustainability as self-reinforcing systems. He advocated for a new mentality of design humanism that fosters human-scale development, local social ties, people-powered mobility, and places for common ground.
lafsummitupenn038-530wThe Summit ended with a toast to the next 50 years.

LAF is synthesizing all of the ideas, discussions, and audience input from the Summit to draft The New Landscape Declaration, which will be released for public comment this fall. (If you have thoughts to share, be sure to leave them here.) Stay tuned!

Photos from the Summit are posted at:

Video footage from the Summit is posted at: (more clips are being added)

Storify social media summaries are at: