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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Blurring the Infrastructural Realm

By Tina Chee, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Los Angeles, a city whose evolution and iconic nature is inextricably linked to infrastructure, is transforming. Today, we witness a renaissance: the build-out of a mass public transportation system by 2030, nearly 100 years after the first freeway parkway was built. With this third wave of transportation infrastructure, how does landscape participate in the implementation of a vast network of subway stations?

This design proposal examines the potential of the westward expansion of the Purple Line subway as the opportunity to literally piggyback a landscape infrastructure on transportation; a landscape that creates ecological corridors, which aggregate the various green fragments in the city, and transforms monoculture clusters into multi-modal activity nodes with landscape emanating from the intersections. Employing public surveys, live interviews, and field work, the project began with an investigation and analysis of the existing pedestrian conditions using the twelve quality criteria for pedestrian landscapes developed by Jan Gehl, which served to inform the design.

The expansiveness of this landscape challenges the boundaries of the public realm by engaging the various underutilized building fronts, setbacks, and blank walls to create an extroverted public square that engages city edges.

bif-lacmaThe form of the station creates an iconic landscape object that is spatially framed by the surrounding context, expanding it beyond property lines. The centerpiece of the station is the sloped green roof and topographic landform constructed from the reuse of excavated dirt from subway tunneling. The roof landform becomes a high point, a place for observation and reflection, that mediates between the hardscape of the urban street and an intimate softscaped forest. The berm form acts as a sound buffer and barrier from the main boulevard traffic noise; it also gives the landscape elevation for gravity fed irrigation.

The center of the roof is a sun lawn surrounded by a native meadow. The surface of the roof landform is dimpled with skylights and a series of undulating mounds that form temporal rain water basins, which create an extended seasonal and visual interest. Rain water not completely absorbed or captured flows down the topographic form irrigating other vegetated areas until it is ultimately collected and filtered in rain gardens at the base.

The sides of the landform are made of gabion walls which filter storm water and become terraces for informal gatherings, a series of meandering ramps for a stroll under the expansive canopy of oak trees, or as tiered plaza steps to observe and engage street life. The west side becomes a natural gathering place for public performances by repurposing the blank exterior museum wall and shaded environment as a backdrop for public events. The south side of the landform scales down to an intimate quiet neighborhood urban park forested with oak trees and dappled light, creating an enjoyable shaded place during summer months. The surrounding meandering pavement pattern and placement of seating planters induce happenstance occurrences, which culminate at the tiered plaza steps.


The bike and pedestrian paths cross and intersect to encourage public life exchange while providing places to sit and congregate. These paths continue to meander, weave, and connect three urban blocks engaging existing building stoops and landscaped setbacks as part of this public realm. The streets between blocks become shared streets where pedestrians and vehicles occupy the same paved surface. Public space can expand and contract for festivals and street events. The boundaries between the public and private realms blur to weave a dynamic urban space that engages city edges and urban life.

In May, Tina Chee graduated from the University of Southern California, where she was awarded the 2013 ASLA Honor Award for her overall body of work. This summer, she completed her research fellowship on infrastructural landscapes, traveling within the U.S. and Western Europe. She is the design leader transforming an underutilized alley into a performative stormwater gallery and recreational green space for low-income, inner city youth. She is currently the lead designer and project manager on several projects at SWA in Los Angeles.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Health, Wellbeing, and Design as Preventative Medicine

By Leann Andrews, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar

Today’s health issues are unprecedented in their scale and severity. Nearly half of Americans have a chronic illness, 67% are overweight or obese, and $2.3 trillion are spent on medical costs each year. Our natural resources, along with the ecosystem services they provide, are rapidly depleting, affecting local and global climates, resilience in the face of natural disasters, and air, soil, and water quality. If trends continue, today’s youth will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Furthermore, with rapid urbanization and population expansion, much of the world is struggling to address basic health needs, such as access to safe water and sanitation. While these issues are daunting, they provide new opportunities for landscape architects to play a critical role in the health conversation by addressing problems “upstream” in our designed environment.

As the 2013 National Graduate Olmsted Scholar, I spent this past summer working with an informal ‘slum’ community outside of Lima, Peru to explore these potentials. I collaborated with a small group of health researchers and designers to implement my capstone project: home gardens designed to improve nutrition, increase mobility, reduce illness, improve mental health and wellbeing, and contribute to economic stability and social infrastructure in this distressed urban community.peru-workshop

Working closely with community leaders and local experts, our team led a series of participatory workshops to help 29 residents envision, design, construct, maintain, and sustain personalized gardens for their homes. Financial efforts focused not only on plants, but also on long-term infrastructural elements such as water-conserving wicking beds, vertical trellises for growing in tight spaces, and decorative yet functional fences to allow roaming chickens, ducks and dogs to co-exist with the gardens.

peru-homegardenThe project centered around education and skill-building among the residents to encourage sustainable practices, craft, project ownership, and community empowerment. Thanks to a continued eight-year partnership with the community, this project also links with other ongoing local efforts including fog harvesting, composting, greenspace, ecological restoration, climate change, public health, and artistic beautification.

This project will also be studied for its effect on mental wellbeing for the residents. The team collected baseline data this summer, and plans to follow-up with a 6-month and one-year evaluation, contributing to a growing body of evidence-based-health and evidence-based-design research to inform future designers, health practitioners, and decision-makers.

Additionally, this opportunity as the National Graduate Olmsted Scholar has allowed me to begin an interdisciplinary PhD program at the University of Washington where I will continue to explore how design professionals can be leaders in the health conversation through implementing design as preventive medicine in our everyday landscapes. I hope to continue working on design and research projects that will expand the understanding of ‘public health and safety’ to include the full richness of health and wellbeing as landscape performance and will assert landscape architects on the leading edge of problem solving to address the complex local and global issues of today.

Leann Andrews recently graduated from the University of Washington with a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture and Global Health and has initiated an interdisciplinary PhD at the University of Washington to research the role that design can have on human and ecological health.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Restoring Hetch Hetchy, a Mountain Temple

By Carson Cooper, 2013 University Olmsted Scholar

A new era of dam decommissioning has commenced. Few dams are built and even fewer are justifiable because of the egregious environmental damage they cause. Destroying a dam and draining a reservoir might be considered victories for restoring our world to a resilient future; however, as the water recedes, a new obstacle emerges: the newly exposed valley floor. Typically, these reclaimed landscapes are in terrible condition because the soil is low in nutrients, microbial activity, and moisture availability, and it usually does not have a consistent soil profile. These factors, and others, hinder natural succession of native plants, which leaves the new landscape vulnerable to invasion from exotic species.

In the glorious mountain tops of the Sierras within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, there is a place called Hetch Hetchy. It was once a beautiful and thriving valley that bountifully provided food, raiment, and shelter for the Miwok Indians. Hetch Hetchy Valley was considered to be one of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the world. John Muir described it as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.” However, in 1913, the pure and precious Toulumne River was dammed by the O’Shaughnessy Dam. The resulting reservoir buried the ancient valley with 300,000 acre-feet of water and became an integral part of an aqueduct system that provided San Francisco and neighboring cities — all of which are nearly 200 miles away — both water and power.

For decades, heated discussions of politics and environmental ethics concerning Hetch Hetchy have reverberated city halls and city walls. Although many people are being informed about the complexities revolving around Hetch Hetchy, the discussion is truly just beginning.

hetch-damclimbingDam Climbing: The future of the obsolete O'Shaughnessy Dam structure

My senior thesis is intended to be a tool and instrument in the discussion. Through intensive analysis, I developed a master plan for a newly exposed Hetch Hetchy Valley once the O’Shaughnessy Dam is obsolete and breached. My thesis considers the extreme complexities within the historical context of the project and explores (lightly) the analysis involved in justifying the removal of the dam and the support pushing for restoration. It investigates the processes involved in restoring a newly drained reservoir through theoretical approaches, case studies, and precedents. It develops appropriate design programming that will highlight the beauty of the historical landscape and offer new recreational opportunities, all while maintaining the integrity of National Park initiatives and the serenity that should exist within a mountain temple.

Through my analysis and design interventions, I realized that a new palette of programming tools is necessary to accomplish the project goals and to have far less environmental impact than nearby Yosemite Valley. I proposed free mass transit from a neighboring camp to drastically decrease car traffic, pollution, and impervious pavement. Therefore, all site interventions and attractions would only be accessible through pedestrian means like walking and cycling. I developed an intricate path system that would provide many access routes to popular locations. I designated walk-in only camp site locations so that Yosemite National Park could accommodate more overnight users, which would increase revenue while alleviating overcrowding in Yosemite Valley. I clustered development in certain areas based on programs and activity use to increase likability, identity, and circulation. Lastly, I tailored the design to lower-impact types of recreation like white water rafting, zip lining, hang gliding, dam and rock climbing, fishing, swimming, mural art, and hiking.

hetch-programRestored Hetch Hetchy Valley, showing development clusters and programming

Through restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, a new and viable ecosystem can be created for both wildlife and humans to experience. This project might also be used as a tool in the creation of resilient principles for our future and an instrument in the dam decommissioning movement. There is no better way to foster human health and to promote the goals of the National Park Service than to restore an ancient “mountain temple” that will manifest the handiwork of both God and humanity.

In May, Carson Cooper graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Bachelors in Landscape Architecture. He is now pursuing a Masters in Landscape Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he intends to focus his studies on new and innovative stormwater management in the urban context and investigate successful design solutions for restoring ecological processes to highly disturbed landscapes like brownfields and post-dam valleys.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: The Evolution of Wayfinding

By Colin Kreik, 2013 University Olmsted Scholar

We’ve all been caught in the situation of being lost in unfamiliar places. Excursions may be misled or forced to detour from time to time. Suddenly, recognizable routes become uncharted territories.

How do we feel at that moment? Are we lost, intimidated, flustered, or suddenly running late? Do we have tunnel vision searching for resources, knowledgeable people, or even a Hollywood sign with a big red arrow directing us where to go? Then a sigh of relief occurs, as we stumble upon a wayfinding signage display.

Found in public or private landscapes and interiors, wayfinding helps users to better understand their surroundings. These signage structures allow people to quickly digest and comprehend any given environment. While conveying proper direction can be challenging, wayfinding gives designers the ability to orchestrate navigational experiences.

nyc-mtaWayfinding is typically an iconic structure that combines the work of planners, graphic designers, and architects through cartography. These structures are commonly found on campuses, in airports, or along streetscapes. Over the years, wayfinding principles and techniques have evolved in conjunction with advancing environments. Trends in wayfinding are shifting from traditional graphic techniques to modern approaches that include advanced technology.

One of the most renowned wayfinding precedents is the work of Massimo Vignelli, creator of NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) subway signage and mapping. Vignelli has guided literally billions of subway riders via his largely bolded Helvetic typography and sharp colors presented with clear shapes and arrows.

zollvereinpark F1RSTDESIGN created fascinating means of wayfinding for Zollverein Park in Essen, Germany. Their graphic design pushed wayfinding a step further by transforming a typical site map into a three-dimensional model. Symbols and text on the model act as a preview for signs and indicators that users will see as they travel through the industrial landscape. This approach introduces the ability for users to study and interpret a site from any given angle. The model also translates the scale of the built environment, which is often overlooked when reading two-dimensional maps.

The way that people today interact with global positioning systems (GPS) via their smartphones is one of the latest wayfinding examples. For those familiar with Google Maps and other GPS applications, who can live without this convenience?

The technological firm Control Group has patented a module to be released for future MTA passenger assistance. Soon, New Yorkers will be able to physically interact with maps in transit stations, which Gabe Stein writes is “better than paper”. NYC transit riders will have large networked touchscreen monitors at their disposal, which can display an individual guided route to the rider’s particular destination.

As the technological world advances, I believe our landscapes certainly will as well. If GPS applications have found their way into our smartphones and touchscreen kiosks can guide us in metro stations, I envision that GPS will replace today’s common wayfinding. Furthermore, I ask whether innovated wayfinding could in turn reshape current design methods and practices in parks, plazas, and public spaces since users will have a clearer understanding of their surroundings through new wayfinding utilities.

Colin Kreik is finishing his BLA at Boston Architectural College, where he researches methods of public mobility through wayfinding. During the year he will be re-creating wayfinding systems and navigational means for the modern landscape, which would make Ferdinand Magellan proud.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Designing Dynamic Urban Agriculture from Massachusetts to Milan

By Eliza Rodrigs, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

It’s no secret that ‘green’ is quickly becoming the new ‘black’, with an overwhelmingly strong focus on sustainable development as we move forward toward creating livable environments for the world’s population. Much of this challenge lies in exploring ways we can balance our compact urban environments with the expansive tracts of rural land that produce the food we consume. This perceived dichotomy presents challenges, of course, but more than anything, it provides an exciting opportunity to explore the human footprint and how we use our land.

Submitting to the Olmsted Scholars Program motivated me to reflect upon my own experience, ultimately inspiring my research centered on exploring a balance between the ‘livable city’ and the ‘livable landscape’. In my final design studio at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the focus was placed on designing spatial experiences that reflected elements of cultural landscape heritage in the town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. I chose to develop a project that would not only align with the studio goals but would also push the envelope and allow me to explore solutions to the challenges presented by current global food paradigms.

urbagregionalI created a preliminary model of a multi-scale food system, presented more as an approach than any sort of specific design. It was challenging to try to figure out how to design an abstract system — something that could be implemented elsewhere just as easily — that at the same time was just as unique as the population of Lawrence. I wanted whatever I produced to be focused on the people, as I feel very strongly about socially conscious design.

My project seeks to reactivate the idea of production within the context of a low-income, racially diverse New England mill town through a multi-scale food systems approach. It reestablishes historic social activity by re-creating patterns of social life and reinventing the idea of the ‘greenway’ to reengage the public in the cultural landscapes of Lawrence. It presents a systematic social approach that increases food security, encourages social interaction and environmental stewardship, and facilitates sustainable development from the inside out.

After completing the project, I submitted for a few competitions and was selected as one of 30 finalists for the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition’s Young Earth Solutions (BCFN YES!) 2013 competition. As a finalist, I will be traveling to Milan at the end of November to attend BCFN’s 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition to both represent my work and learn from others in the field. The top 10 projects will present their work to a jury for further competition, and the top 30 will have their abstracts on display over the course of the forum.

As one of the 30 finalists, I also have the unique opportunity to have my work compete for the ‘Best on the Web 2013’ recognition, an honor that is decided through online voting, which is currently underway. Follow the link, click the scroll dots to find my name, then click ‘Show Details’ to browse the project and vote!

Vote for the BCFN Yes! Best on the Web

This is such an incredible opportunity and I’m so grateful to be recognized by BCFN for the kind of work that continues to inspire me!


Eliza graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BSLA in May 2013. She was awarded both a Merit Award and an Honor Award from the ASLA in recognition of her achievement in the course of study of Landscape Architecture. Eliza continues to explore themes of food security, sustainable agricultural development and urban livability in as many contexts as she can. In November she will travel to Milan, Italy to attend the 5th International Forum on Food and Nutrition, a 2-day event that will continue to open doors and fuel the conversation about how to design for a successful future.