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Olmsted Scholar Feature: 1936 Olympic Village - At the Intersection of Preservation and Renewal

By Katia Rios, 2014 University Olmsted Scholar

Just west of Berlin, Germany, adjacent to a village in former East Germany, lies an often overlooked yet significant landmark. Essentially an abandoned landscape, the remnants of the 1936 Olympic Village evoke a powerful past that dates back to one of the darkest periods in Germany’s history. The Nazi government conceived and built this roughly 130-acre complex to house the 1936 Olympic athletes, including the legendary Jesse Owens. It was transformed into a military base during the Second World War, and taken over by the Soviet Union as a sports training camp for its military. Finally, after the reunification of Germany, the landscape was abandoned with uncertainty as to its future. Only recently has it been rehabilitated to serve as an outdoor museum and witness to Germany’s past.


The 1936 Olympic Village is not only an emblem of Germany’s history, but also a unique example for understanding various topics in landscape architecture. As an abandoned landscape, the Olympic Village is a great opportunity to understand time’s influence on infrastructure and landscapes, in the context of environmental processes, deterioration and decay, and ecological resilience. The site provides the opportunity to explore the issues of cultural and historic landscape preservation, and the unique balancing of preservation and revitalization or renewal. As a public space, issues of community involvement are brought to the foreground and bring to light opportunities for public engagement. The 1936 Olympic Village lies at the intersection of these issues, and allows a unique example for understanding landscape architecture’s role in addressing these site conditions and the issues inherently embedded within this site.


My master’s report dealt with this complex site under these premises, bridging the gap between the depth of the past with the possibilities for the future. The design outcome allows history to come to the foreground while simultaneously planning and envisioning a revitalized purpose for the Village. Its intent is to provide visitors with a comprehensive history of the site, allowing them to reflect, process, and understand that history, and ultimately enjoy recreational opportunities within a large, ecologically-rich landscape. The design fosters a sense of exploration, allowing visitors to create their own experience within this unique place that has an incredible potential to become so much more than it is now.


Beyond the 1936 Olympic Village itself, the focus on a former Olympic Village site comes at an opportune time, in the midst of discussions around the future of the infrastructure and impacts of the most recent Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The 1936 Olympic Village is a reflection of the challenges of integrating Olympic Villages and Olympic infrastructure back into the folds of community after the Games have left. There is great potential for an examination such as this to answer similar questions for other abandoned Olympic Villages around the world. The uncertain futures of Olympic Villages highlight the issues surrounding redevelopment and reuse of infrastructure involved in such temporal and short-lived events. The discrepancy between the investment of host cities into the creation of Olympic sites, with the short-lived nature and fleeting use of these sites warrants more attention. Landscape architecture, in this context, provides an effective strategy for working through these discrepancies and contradictions.

Link to Master’s Report:

Katia Rios (Gedrath-Smith) completed her Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Arizona in May. She now works as an intern at Gustafson Guthrie Nichol in Seattle, Washington, launching her career in landscape architecture.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Park City: Re-creating the Essence of "Park"

By Ryan Coghlan, 2014 University Olmsted Scholar

Today over half the world’s population lives in cities. With this number set to grow to over 80% by 2050, how best to grow cities has become a problem global in scope. Combined with land shortages, this growth has frequently lead to densification, and with it, increased strain on local resources and the environment. Left unchecked, this strain has the potential to threaten the long-term health of both society and the environment worldwide.

Throughout the modern era, parks have been vital to combatting the negative effects of such densification. Having historically been viewed as distinct from the surrounding city, parks have been able to perform functions that are forbidden elsewhere in urban environments. By taking on a variety of social, cultural, and more recently, ecological roles, parks have helped reinforce the systems that densification strains, allowing cites to grow and thrive over time. Today, however, the very land shortages and resulting densification that is creating the need for more parks also makes it impossible to create them as they have traditionally been conceived.

Inevitably defined in relation to the city in which it is used, “park” implies specific physical forms, functions, and values. By re-creating these qualities throughout the city, we can in essence reconceptualize the city itself as park. Such a city would have all the qualities of “park”, but permeated throughout rather than in discrete spaces. Through this approach, the city fabric could assume the roles that parks have traditionally played, allowing the city to continue growing and thriving.

For my graduate thesis I developed a framework and design approach that could help this reconceptualization of the city as a park to occur. To study how this might be done, I examined Vancouver, Canada and how the basic qualities of the city’s successful parks – for instance, their spatial properties, plant palettes and hydrological features – allow them to perform their roles within the city. Using this analysis as a guide, I then proposed four design prototypes that added these qualities to common urban spaces such as streets, alleys, and apartment buildings, such that the resulting spaces could perform both their existing roles and those of parks.


By creating ways for common urban spaces to perform both their current functions and those of “park,” densifying cities can continue enjoying parks’ many benefits despite their shrinking land base. By focusing on the qualities of parks, rather than their specific forms, we can begin to create new park forms appropriate for the dense urban environments of today. Given the extent of urbanization today and the ways parks’ benefits mitigate the effects of densification, this work I hope will ultimately help lead to more sustainable and healthy urban environments.



Ryan Coghlan received his Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of British Columbia in May 2014. He currently is helping develop a schoolyard design guidebook for parents and schools while working for the Vancouver School Board and University of British Columbia. He recently moved to London in the United Kingdom to pursue his career in landscape architecture.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: A Grand Tour of Contemporary Planting Design

By Ben O’Brien, 2014 University Olmsted Scholar

I can trace my moment of epiphany to a park tour in New York City in the summer of 2012. I was visiting with my grandmother, and the first day was devoted to the High Line. I had read every article, I had scrutinized the plans, but when I first stepped onto the old railway I was overcome, and it wasn’t because of the paving. It was because of the plants. The High Line showed me, like no other designed landscape had, the immense power of planting design. Plants became my joyful obsession, and after graduating, I felt that a “grand tour” was in order. I had to see more places like the High Line. And so it was in early September of this year that I found myself on a plane bound for England.

plantingdesign01Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset

From the justifiably famous Piet Oudolf’s latest masterpiece for the Hauser and Wirth Gallery in Somerset, to the late Christopher Lloyd’s magnum opus at Great Dixter; from James Hitchmough’s billowing meadows and prairies at the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens and the London 2012 Olympic Park, to the remarkable subtlety of Henk Gerritsen’s gardens at Waltham Place and Dan Pearson’s poetic entry garden at London’s Garden Museum — over the course of two weeks, I was witness to an incredible range of contemporary planting.

Whether you’re weaving through the subtly contoured paths of an expansive field of flowers in Somerset, scanning the east London skyline from a ridge clothed in wildflowers, ducking and dodging luxuriant masses of plants at Great Dixter, or strolling along the cloud-pruned hedge of boxwood at Waltham Place as Mexican feather grass tickles your shins, each landscape is an experience to be savoured. In the spirit of Olmsted, these are “work[s] of art, designed to produce certain effects upon the mind of men.” Buzzing with life (human and nonhuman alike), these gardens are places with a tremendous degree of multisensory, immersive richness. Their soul gets into you and demands a slow contemplation that more superficially planted, soulless landscapes can never do. It is beauty with substance and it is a beauty that can only be achieved by people who approach their craft equipped with an encyclopaedic knowledge and vocabulary, but most of all a deeply genuine love of plants.

plantingdesign02Great Dixter in Northiam, East Sussex

Through listening to Oudolf lecture at the opening of his newest garden, meeting with Hitchmough at the University of Sheffield, and from chance encounters with American designer Adam Woodruff and Waltham’s head gardener Beatrice Krehl, I was able to gain special insight into the philosophies and methodologies of these different but equally passionate plantspeople. The lessons these gardens and their creators teach are critical to both an improved, more thoughtful and rigorous approach to planting design, and to the practice of landscape architecture as a whole.

My travels reaffirmed my belief that an intellectual approach to planting design, grounded at once in science and art, is necessary if landscape architecture is to achieve its full potential as, to borrow from James Corner, an agent capable of producing and enriching a truly sustainable culture. The future of this small but important niche within the larger profession is bright, and I’m excited to play a role in its continued evolution.

Recommended reading:
Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury
Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen
The Dynamic Landscape edited by James Hitchmough and Nigel Dunnett
The Living Landscape
by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy
The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik
Principles of Ecological Landscape Design by Travis Beck

plantingdesign03London Olympic Park

Ben O’Brien graduated with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (With Distinction) from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and is in the process of establishing his own ecological design studio. Ben’s long-term goal is to work as a planting design consultant in partnership with leading landscape architects and urban designers.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: A Little Dreamer: Paper Airplanes and Sustainability

By Qiyi Li, 2014 University Olmsted Scholar

Paper airplanes connect us with childhood dreams and memories through individual attachments that are unique to one’s personal experiences. My undergraduate independent honors project was a month-long art installation in the five-story atrium of the Iowa State University College of Design Building during December 2013. The work was originally scheduled to be in place for only one week, but Design College Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez was so impressed that he requested an extension to a full month so that the installation became the setting for the fall semester graduation ceremony.

planes-01Professor Michael Martin from the Department of Landscape Architecture served as my honors project advisor, providing advice and support during the conceptual and developmental stages of the project. I installed the project over a period of several days during the week of Thanksgiving break.

Initially inspired by artist Dawn Ng’s “I Fly Like Paper,” my installation responded to its architectural frame as these airplane “vectors” connected each of the atrium’s four balconies to the opposite wall near the ground level. I strung 634 paper airplanes on nearly invisible fishing line catenaries, linking one side of the atrium with the other through gracefully descending arcs. These arcs provided a counterpoint to the narrow and vertical atrium; the introduction of this new geometry created fresh perspectives on the experience of the rectilinear space from multiple levels and a variety of viewpoints. The planes themselves were static and yet they implied motion. Viewers experienced a diversity of psychological responses because of the dynamic aesthetic variations caused by point of view and varying by time of day, since the building’s full-length barrel vault skylight allows sunlight into the atrium.

planes-02Finally, the medium is the message: the 634 paper airplanes were made from sheets of paper discarded from the Design Building’s printing lab. The number of planes reflected the number of trees worldwide that are cut for paper mills every five seconds, based on the rate of four billion trees per year. This was our very own waste paper, dive-bombing its way into our collective consciousness, forcing us to visualize our personal and quotidian contribution to a problem of abstractly global dimensions. The installation utilized public art as a medium to highlight environmental issues and to raise public awareness of paper recycling and sustainable conservation practices.

The installation received recognition and honors from both inside and outside the College. My project was one of three recipients of the university’s “Live Green Award for Excellence in Sustainability” in 2014, and was the only individual (as opposed to team) project among the awardees. I was invited to present the project for the “Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression,” in order to increase public awareness of resource waste. The project has also inspired other interventions: After I graduated, similar “airspace” projects have appeared in the atrium space, transforming an overlooked  “empty” architectural void into a vital ground for public art.

For more information, visit:

planes-03Qiyi Li graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degree and a secondary major in Environmental Studies from Iowa State University with University Honors. Qiyi is currently continuing her studies in the Master of Landscape Architecture post professional degree program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Meet the 2014 National Olmsted Scholar and Finalists: The Undergraduates

The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholars Program is the premier national award and recognition program for landscape architecture students. The program honors students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

Here, we showcase the 2014 undergraduate winner and finalists, who were announced last spring. An independent jury of leaders in the landscape architecture profession selected them from a group of 30 undergraduate students nominated by their faculty for being exceptional student leaders. The winner receives the $15,000 undergraduate prize and each finalist receives $1,000.

All of the 2014 Olmsted Scholars will be honored at LAF’s Annual Benefit in Denver on November 21. We hope to se you there!


National Olmsted Scholar Erin Percevault of Louisiana State University

Erin discusses her research looking at how renewable energy technologies and policies affect landscape and communities.


Finalist Blythe Worstell of the Ohio State University

In this slideshow, Blythe shares how travel, service, and her rustbelt upbringing have shaped her design interests.


Finalist Clemente Rico of Arizona State University

Clemente discusses his belief that landscape architecture can be an agent for social and environmental justice and his work to develop future designers.


Finalist Viviana Castro of the University of Florida

In this slideshow, Viviana shares her experiences abroad and discusses plans to return to Bogota, Columbia to share her capstone research and visions for rediscovering the Fucha River.