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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Redefining Our Borderlands

By Anjelica Sifuentes, 2017 University Olmsted Scholar


We are currently living in one of the most divisive political eras, with the issue of border security between the U.S. and Mexico at the forefront of many debates. My parents are Mexican-American, and our family is from the part of the country that has been scrutinized and villainized because of its location along the Rio Grande. Until recently, I hadn’t recognized the connection between my culture and my self-identity, both personally and professionally, but as I look back at my journey through these defining moments, I can’t imagine identifying without it.

I was born in early 1993 in San Antonio, Texas, a short 145 miles away from my extended family in Eagle Pass, Texas and the Mexico-U.S. border which runs along it. My father grew up in this border town, and my mother spent her childhood in El Paso and Mexico City until they both moved to San Antonio to start their own family. My entire life was consumed with my culture, but I was naive to living without it until I moved from this diverse and inclusive Texan city to the noticeably segregated and conservative Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This intense culture shock quickly made me reevaluate who I was as a person and what I planned to focus on in my professional career. 

A huge part of my Mexican heritage revolves around community, which helped inspire my research as I enter my final year at Louisiana State University. I see an opportunity to confront the struggling relationship between the U.S. and Mexico by designing regional border prototypes derived from the way people lived before the current interferences. In this research lies an opportunity to promote social change through unconventional means during a time when the future seems uncertain for immigrants and anyone who feels vulnerable because of who they are and where they’re from.

eagle-pass-green-space-530wUninhabited green space between downtown Eagle Pass and the Rio Grande

Generally speaking, the celebration of our border has become a quiet whisper due to political pressure that has left our cities feeling neglected and somewhat ashamed. Historically, as one sister city grew in size and density, the other did as well, but cultural and political setbacks have caused the cities to experience negative withdrawals. Our native ancestors settled along these areas for water, food, and shelter. It wasn’t until political power and modern adversity intervened that the current border conditions were created. Through my research and design iterations, I aim to shed light on the trends that have developed from these interventions and how to improve on them moving forward for the benefit of both countries.

As a student of landscape architecture, I feel a certain power and responsibility that is more formidable than some even realize. Our designs can influence people in ways that are invisible to the untrained eye because we have the ability to create significant change with deliberate research that informs the design process. I know this sounds like a romanticized rendition of what landscape architecture is, but seeing that opportunity has helped carry me forward into what I feel is my place in the profession.

I often think about the relationship between my self-identity and the passion that makes me fight for the protection and freedom of my heritage as I resist the powers that try to silence it. The issues surrounding border security are some of the most polarizing problems we face as a nation, but taking on such an immense challenge brings out the drive that I owe to the very culture that I’m fighting for. It’s important for me to use my role as a designer to challenge these controversies in a way that not only helps bridge the gap between different societies but also highlights the ability we have to inspire others to create change themselves. Although aspects of our country may seem uncertain, I truly believe we are at the beginning of a cultural revolution, and I will take this as an opportunity to be both an innovative designer and unapologetically Mexican-American.

Anjelica Sifuentes is entering her final year as a BLA candidate at Louisiana State University. She is a 2017 University Olmsted Scholar and the winner of LAF’s 2017 EDSA Minority Scholarship, which supports African American, Hispanic, Native American, and minority students of other cultural and ethnic backgrounds to continue their landscape architecture education.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Rise of the Reading Garden

By Nathania Martinez, 2017 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

nathania-martinez-garden-530wNathania sets pavers to help construct the reading garden at W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida.

Two years ago, Principal Valde Fortner from W.W. Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, asked the University of Florida’s ASLA Student Chapter to design and build a “reading garden.” I participated in that effort, and today students and teachers enjoy the garden during class. The garden is also used for annual school events like Pop into a Good Book when parents join their children. I attended and saw parents smile with glee. Some found it hard to find time to read with their kids as often as they would like, and they were thrilled to have a space that encouraged them not only to make that time but to spend it outdoors.

The following summer I answered a call to volunteer to design another reading garden and lead a team of 17 volunteers to build it at Liberty City Elementary School in Miami, Florida. Here, I witnessed a diverse community come together to build a place where teachers and students could go to read and see colorful pollinators.

From these two projects, my curiosities about how children learn best have blossomed, and I wish to investigate whether reading gardens can inspire play that facilitates learning. While many teachers want to take their students outside, aside from lunch, physical education class, or lining up for the bus after school, children are spending most of the school day inside. My fondest childhood memories happened outdoors.

nathania-martinez-classroom-530wWith Future Landscape Architects of America and UF SCASLA, Nathania teaches students in Gainsville, Florida to design their own planting plans.

When designing for children we forget that they have ideas too — different ideas that we can learn from and be inspired by. They are not usually weighed down by practicalities, which results in some innovative ideas. I want to look to them for advice. I want to inform my practice by listening as they discover their thoughts, ideas, and perceptions about how the world works.

I am able to do this with the non-profit Future Landscape Architects of America and the University of Florida’s SCASLA advocacy team. We create lesson plans that introduce K-12 students to landscape architecture. When we ask them to brainstorm design ideas, I am always surprised at how well the children are able to communicate their needs and desires. As design professionals, we are rarely encouraged to seek advice from children. However, I want to recruit these minds to help me identify answers to my design questions. And I will look for inspiration from precedents like C. Th. Sørensen’s adventure playgrounds that foster free-spirited independent play, spark curiosity, and offer children opportunities to practice assessing risks and making decisions.  

Principal Valde told me that a boy ran off one day to sit in one of the garden’s reading nooks to calm down after feeling upset. The space is not just for reading but also for respite and play. It is a space where multiple senses can be engaged to support children’s imaginations. In The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson wrote “many children delight in the small and inconspicuous.” It would be regrettable to not discover the little things in our early years, and discovery is best achieved beyond the confines of four walls.

The United Nations Article 31 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes play as a fundamental right of children. The term “reading garden” alludes to a space where the sole function seems to be a place that teachers take their pupils to read. I would like to stretch this beyond the possibly illusory belief that we can beguile our youth to read more if they do it outdoors, and to see it also as an offer of alternative environments for inquiry outside of students’ oftentimes windowless and poorly ventilated classrooms — a space where their stimulated senses can help to contribute to the stories their wondrous minds bring to life.

Nathania Martinez is a fifth year Bachelor Landscape Architecture student at the University of Florida and just completed an internship at the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB) in Washington, D.C. 

2017 Landscape Performance Education Grant Recipients Announced


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 new approaches for standard courses. Their teaching materials and reflections are then shared through the Resources for Educators section of LAF’s

Landscape performance is part of the the revised LAAB Accreditation Standards, which take effect starting with landscape architecture programs scheduled for accreditation reviews this fall. Students must learn necessary skills to predict outcomes, assess alternatives, defend design proposals, and evaluate environmental, social, and economic performance of landscape projects.

Over the last four years, LAF has awarded a total of $50,000 in Landscape Performance Education Grants to university faculty. The $2,500 grant recipients for the Fall 2017 semester/term are:

  • Kelly Curl, Colorado State University
    Designed Landscapes – Theory and Criticism (BLA Seminar)
    This discussion-focused seminar will introduce students in their final year to landscape theory with a focus on integrating performance. Students will study the Landscape Performance Series Case Study Briefs and Benefits Toolkit. This is the only seminar course that allows students to be fully engaged in readings, writings, and discussions on designed and built landscapes. Students will also learn to measure campus landscapes with the physical tools needed to evaluate performance.
  • Catherine De Almeida, University of Nebraska 
    Materiality in Landscape Architecture (BLA Seminar)
    This course, the first of three courses in a construction sequence, introduces sophomores to AutoCAD and detailing as well as the materials and assemblies used in landscape architecture with a focus on material lifecycles and performance capabilities. Students will be exposed to the larger implications of their material choices and design decisions by viewing materials through the lens of lifecycle analysis and performance. This seminar will use illustrated lectures, readings, class discussions, model-making, assignments, field trips, analysis, computer drafting, design development, experimentation, and evaluation to explore materials with a performance lens.
  • JeanMarie Hartman, Rutgers University
    Advanced Plants (MLA Lecture and Lab/Studio)
    This lecture and studio combination course focuses on plant ecology, plant identification and planting design. Beginning with a landscape performance framework, the course will implement an active learning model, requiring students to collect plant specimens for identification, sample areas for biodiversity, and take soil samples. Rain gardens will be used during plant identification and planting design segments to measure ecological, economic, public health, social, and aesthetic performance. Visits to greenhouses and campus gardens will be used to evaluate the many ways in which plants interact with their environment.
  • Phillip Zawarus, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    Landscape Arch Design III (BLA Studio)
    This 4th-year studio course will focus on the context of the Las Vegas Valley and its unique challenges. Students will examine the global, regional, and local scale of environmental systems, analyze master plans and green infrastructure guidelines for developments adjacent to valley water networks, and conduct comprehensive analysis, synthesis, programming, and design for landscape performance. Through parametric modeling and GIS mapping, students will assess the performance of existing conditions within the Las Vegas valley in order to outline green infrastructure guidelines for the water network.

HomeLand Lab: Exploring the Intersection of Public Space and Homelessness


Brice Maryman is a 2017 recipient of the $25,000 LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership. His project explores the spatial manifestations of homelessness on the landscape, documents current management approaches, and aims to offer comprehensive, community‚Äźbased spatial strategies to create better, more successful public spaces for all.

As part of his research, Brice has created the HomeLand Lab podcast. Available at or on iTunes, the podcast invites listeners to engage in a wide-ranging conversation on homelessness and public space. With a diversity of perspectives, Brice hopes that  a more nuanced and productive conversation can emerge about the profound relationship between homelessness and public space.

In the first five episodes, he has spoken with politicians, people who have experienced homelessness, designers, academics and public space managers, each of whom has offered intelligent, insights about the state of poverty and homelessness in American public spaces today.  

LAF Olmsted Scholars: Ready to Act on the New Landscape Declaration

After the close of LAF’s 2016 Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, a group of Olmsted Scholars in attendance gathered over beer and pizza to rehash an intense 2 days of presentations and panel discussions on the demands and ambitions of the profession for the next 50 years.

Inspired by the Summit and the New Landscape Declaration, 10 of these Olmsted Scholars continued to converse through conference calls and Google documents to produce their own response focused on moving forward with deliberate actions to meet the ambitions set forth in the Declaration’s four calls to action.

Through a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, we will showcase their action plans. We begin with Action1:

We will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession.


  • Join or volunteer with professional organizations that nourish diversity.
  • Financially sponsor and volunteer for landscape architecture student career discovery programs for K-12.
  • Financially sponsor and volunteer for projects in communities in-need.
  • Seek short-term and alternative projects for their ability to catalyze public conversation, stimulate new ideas and teach the profession how to fail forward.


  • Champion diverse leadership and client-bases within workplaces.

  • Support entrepreneurial career paths within the profession and encourage transdisciplinary collaboration beyond the design professions to break into new markets and push innovation.
  • Seek funding sources for interdisciplinary, global reach and alternative project types.
  • Evaluate existing project delivery methods and test new platforms.

You can download a PDF copy of the full The Olmsted Scholar Agenda: from Declaration to Action, which includes all four action plans and corresponding precedents for reference and inspiration. The document is a framework for a more detailed action strategy that can be used to inspire, direct, and hold us all accountable. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be the beginning of a larger dialogue to address the concerns and hopes stated in the New Landscape Declaration.

Stay tuned next week for a post on Action 2: “We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks.”

We are the next generation and are ready to act.

The Olmsted Scholars who contributed to this effort are: Leann Andrews (2013 National Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Bailey (2014 Olmsted Scholar), Zach Barker (2013 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Marin Braco (2012 Olmsted Scholar Finalist), Nina Chase (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Kim Dietzel (2015 Olmsted Scholar), Karl Krause (2008 Olmsted Scholar), Tim Mollette-Parks (2009 Olmsted Scholar), Andrew Sargeant (2016 Olmsted Scholar), and Nate Wooten (2016 Olmsted Scholar).

LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program recognizes and supports landscape architecture students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.