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Olmsted Scholar Feature: Revitalization, Reuse, and the Productive Value of Landscape

By Brett Kordenbrock, 2012 Olmsted Scholar

Within my undergraduate studies I had the opportunity to work at the Niehoff Urban Design Center, an extension of the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati. Here, studios gave way to an understanding of how urban spaces functioned, neighborhoods were marginalized, and futures were drawn up by various stakeholders. In these studios we explored one of Cincinnati’s best kept secrets, Over-the-Rhine. It is here that I found myself entranced by the community’s positive outlook, collection of Italianate Architecture, and burgeoning potential.

kordenbrock01Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati

Today, the wheels are in motion and advocates are tapping local and collective resources to re-envision Over-the-Rhine and the Brewery District, which are growing into a thriving community of artisans, business start-ups, and beer barons. To see these visions realized has given me hope for other fledgling communities in our most sacred urban areas.

I like to draw on these experiences for a number of reasons. I believe that it is fundamental for all designers (and humans) to understand how our cities operate socially, culturally, and environmentally, why our neighborhoods succeed and fail, and how urban life can both empower and excite so many. I have explored these very questions within my design education at the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University.

The choice to enter landscape architecture had been in the works for some years, but it was not until my first studio that I realized landscape architecture was an appropriate setting in which urbanism could be understood, explored, and tried. Since then, my program has supported my growing focus on the productive value of landscape, its ability to operate in non-traditional spaces, and the role biophysical and human ecologies play in the development of site strategies and interventions. I have explored these topics through competitions, seminars, and research-based studios.

kordenbrock02These efforts have been best realized in the award-winning project, Augmenting Systems: Strategies for Ecological Intensity at the Picway Power Plant, which reutilized outputs from a coal-fired power plant near Columbus, Ohio. Strategies included: reutilizing warm combustion process water for a 365-day water fowl environment, reorganizing current cut/fill strategies to thicken ash impoundment caps thereby increasing ecological and biomass potential as well as human habitation of certain areas, thickening and elongating existing hedgerows to capture migratory animal populations, and sequestering carbon dioxide through vertical algae farms — a phase introduced as part of the plant’s biomass operations. The project also resulted in a 2050 Vision for the Columbus Metroparks whereby sites like this and other residuals of urban processes become the new prototype for a productive urban park system.

kordenbrock03Hoop-houses at the Godman Guild in Columbus

Since becoming a 2012 University Olmsted Scholar, I have had the opportunity to work on a community garden and hoop-house project. In this collaborative studio, led by Professor Katherine Bennett, we explored both the potential modularity of food production at varying scales (from personal to family to neighborhood) and co-habitation ideologies among human and non-human species within an agro-ecology framework. Today, the gardens and hoop-houses stand tall at the Godman Guild in the Short North East Neighborhood of Columbus, where they will serve as common areas, outdoor classrooms, and experimental stations for a growing number of residents in need of access to healthy and local food.

As I enter my final year of graduate school, I will focus my efforts on urban waterways, specifically the in situ ecologies and conditions of channelized rivers. All too often we see responses eradicate existing ecologies to make way for a “naturalized” condition. So, I ask, why does our response to channelized rivers look the same, project to project? Are novel ecosystems as valuable as their “naturalized” counterparts? And, more specifically, how can a channelized river like the Mill Creek in Cincinnati use existing ecologies and conditional anomalies to re-value and re-tool both itself and its adjacent communities?

Over the summer Brett Kordenbrock held an internship with Peter Walker and Partners. His Augmenting Systems/Picway Power Plant project was selected for the International Exhibition at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona in September 2012. He is entering his final year of his graduate education in Landscape Architecture at the Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape Architecture Accessibility and Communication

By Lucy Wang, 2012 Olmsted Scholar

Frederick Law Olmsted is famous for many things — his title as “Father of Landscape Architecture,” his park designs, his belief in the social utility of natural scenery — but he was also a huge advocate of ensuring that parks remain accessible to everyone in the States, rather than a select, wealthy few as had been the case in Great Britain.

So, it is in part thanks to Olmsted that many urban parks remain in the downtown public realm, accessible by foot and public transportation. Visit your city’s local public park, and chances are there’ll be a wide cross-section of the urban population. Public access, however, is only part of the equation in determining the accessibility of landscapes.

How do people first become aware of the green spaces around them?

Media coverage from newspaper outlets and cable news do a huge service in promoting new parkland, however, what’s most interesting to me is what social media can do for promoting the awareness of green space, and ultimately, lead to a better public understanding of landscape architecture.

A shining example of this can be found on Yelp, a site where anyone can be a published critic. And though it’s mostly known for restaurant reviews, I’ve used Yelp many times to discover nearby parks. It’s refreshing to hear about what works and doesn’t work by someone who actually passes by or uses the park everyday. Other social media, such as blogging on tumblr and tagged photographs on Facebook also help unearth the “hidden gem” parklets and urban gardens. Grassroots initiatives like the open-source “guerilla wayfinding” project in Raleigh, NC can also reconnect communities with their surroundings.

wang02Spadina Wavedeck in Toronto, Ontario

Using a variety of communicative mediums to spread the knowledge of green space not only leads to a greater discussion and awareness of the history and uses of landscapes, but can also instill a sense of land stewardship and responsibility. Proper signage, media coverage, reviews and blogging are ways to engage a general audience. A greater interest in public space and parks will also lead to a greater understanding of and appreciation for landscape architecture.

Enamored by travel and the accessibility of information on the Internet, I’ve started on a project to increase awareness of landscape architecture. In late August, I embarked on an eight-month trip across North America on bus and train to look at landscape architecture that is accessible by foot or public transit.

wang01HTO Park on Lake Ontario

Using a website ( and social media platforms, I hope to showcase landscape architecture sites, firms, and university programs I visit along the way. I’ll use word of mouth, social media, and online databases such as The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s What’s Out There to help track down which sites to visit.

I’ve chosen North America (not including Mexico) partly because compared to Europe and Asia, there seems to be less coverage of its designed landscapes. It’s my hope that people who visit or live in the cities I travel to can then use the site as a resource to discover green spaces in their urban backyards.

Lucy Wang is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s BLA program. Having just finished a 7-month internship with EDSA, she is embarking on a self-funded, 8-month journey around the U.S. and parts of Canada to study landscape architecture, sustainability, and public transit systems. You can follow her on her Landscape Voice website, her informal tumblr page, or send her an email at landscapevoice [at]

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Illuminating the Intangible - Projects in Experimentation and Risk-taking

By Tera Hatfield, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

While preparing to apply to graduate school, I dog-eared well-worn works by Raymond Carver, T. S. Eliot, John McPhee, John Cage and Robert Smithson. Carver and McPhee illuminated intersections between obscure processes and marginalized places. Eliot, Cage, and Smithson introduced me to the poetics of entropy and the possibility of directed, open-ended designs that might serve as catalysts for future change. Much like the landscape architect, such artists grapple with communicating intangible processes and experiences, exploring new configurations and forms derived from underutilized and unseen conditions in language and the environment.

I believe the landscape is both a place of experimentation and risk-taking. Since being recognized as a National Olmsted Scholar Finalist, I’ve designed two projects that provided the opportunity for such experimentation. The projects book-ended my final year of graduate school, and fell on disparate sides of the design spectrum. (“Decoding the Tiber” is a highly conceptual competition entry, while the “Supershed” is a fully constructed dwelling.) However, both strive to visualize the unimagined, to interpret ecological and social changes via transformative landscape design.

hatfield01Last fall, I was the recipient of a fellowship to study the Tiber River. The Tiber, caged by 20-ft travertine embankments, is rejected as a social space by most Romans. My work was based on a competition to design a museum, traditionally a static entity, dedicated to the river, a system that is constantly in flux. The design specifically responds to a significant lack of environmental data on the Tiber and its heavily bounded site conditions. “Decoding the Tiber” situates post-industrial sites as data collection and decoding points, as well as newly productive space.

An urban river research center decodes the uncertain ecologies of the Tiber — a testing space for researchers to connect in the lab and on the water to provocatively engage the river and its urban narrative. This decoding is illustrated in designed stormwater data pools, their radical colors linked to water quality at other testing sites along the Tiber, changing temporally based on the health of the river. Opportunities for active physical exploration of the Tiber by Romans is a ways off; therefore, the design presents a digital iPhone application entitled “Tiber Decoder Ring” in which the dots and data between upstream and downstream are connected digitally (forecasts and real-time feeds). Users also have the ability to map their own intersections and investigations of the Tiber, graphically connecting users to their contextual surroundings.

This past spring, I participated in the award-winning Howard S. Wright Neighborhood Design/Build Studio taught by Professor Steve Badanes. The NBD team designed and built two tool sheds, a solar greenhouse and a community classroom space, that served the varied needs of the University of Washington Farm, Seattle Youth Garden Works and the Hardy Plant Society of Seattle. The project is located on the perimeter of the Union Bay Natural Area, a 74-acre center (and former county dump) dedicated to the study of urban agriculture, ecological restoration and sustainability.

hatfield02After an initial client meeting and feedback period, the integrated design process unfolded quickly with the decision to combine the varied client programs into a unified and cohesive structure in order to preserve space for outdoor education and habitat. This decision, in conjunction with a high degree of responsiveness to site conditions, became the foundation for the studio’s design strategy. With the nickname “Supershed,” the combined structure became the NBD studio’s most unique project to date, with a total area of 459 sf despite a budget of just under $11,000.

The design strategy utilizes a technically ambitious articulated king post truss system (and modular wall panels) that serve to address the client’s security and program needs while maximizing important site opportunities regarding light/sun exposure (solar greenhouse and daylit tool sheds), natural ventilation, rain (roof-water capture devices) and southern views of restored wetlands and Union Bay (classroom). All of the structure’s cladding is either salvaged from on-site materials (e.g., doors constructed from used concrete forms, twig fence organic material sourced from discarded university ground cuttings) or locally-sourced and donated, reclaimed cedar (for the classroom). The 12-week project was recently nominated for an AIA Student Award.

This spring, Tera Hatfield finished a clerkship with Gustafson Guthrie Nichol and received her Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Washington. Her collaborative capstone project, focusing on entropic systems and mapping indeterminacy, was selected for the International Exhibition at the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona in September 2012. Upon completing a summer internship at ADX Portland as a fabrication assistant, Tera moved to Boston where she intends to find a position with a local design studio.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape-Oriented Zoning for Rosario, Argentina

By Fadi Masoud, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

masoud03The subdivision and transformation of agricultural lands to suburban decentralized developments is a symptomatic condition of the territorial edge of cities worldwide. By appropriating a micro-watershed landscape approach to the creation of subdivisions at the peripheral edges of cities, the hydrodynamic agrarian condition is envisioned to become the driver for a novel, resilient, and flexible landscape-oriented type of zoning and land use provision.

Recognizing the ineffectiveness of dated jurisdictional and normative planning tools in dealing with contemporary urbanization concerns, “landscape-oriented zoning” represents an alternative model for suburban developments on greenfields. With the micro-watershed as the unit of subdivision, landscape-oriented zoning promotes integrated and responsive built-form typologies as well as decentralized infrastructure on operative open space provisions.

As part of an option studio at Harvard Univeristy’s Graduate School of Design, I collaborated with Mariusz Klemens on a project to deal with the territorial front and agrarian front of the City of Rosario in Argentina. Bracketed by two small rivers marking the north and south limits of the city, the site for this project has been defined by the Urban Plan Rosario 2007-2017 as the New Strategic Territorial Front. The flatness of the Argentine Pampas, much like many greenfield zones in any expanding city, is subject to dated artificial and jurisdictional land use separation, zoning, and subdivision. This practice of parcelization of land for the building of new suburban subdivisions does not take into account the extreme hydrodynamics of these seemingly flat agricultural lands.

Our project uses the site’s existing micro-watersheds as a land subdivision mechanism and planning tool for these types of suburban fringes. Analysis showed that the current regional and local infrastructure does not respond to any of the existing environmental and social conditions. Its centralized configuration provides ineffective water and waste management, especially in high depravation zones. To address this, the project uses the natural drainage patterns to clearly demarcate micro-watersheds that run along and through the site. Rather than following a normative planning approach to land subdivision and land use, the project appropriated these flow lines as potential units for a landscape-driven zoning and parcelization regime.


Since the site is currently not serviced by the centralized waste and water municipal network, the project proposed a new decentralized configuration of infrastructure by utilizing existing topographic and hydrologic conditions to allow for a new typology of fully adaptive and flexible built form and open space system.

masoud02Super-imposing this new micro-watershed-driven regime on top of a suitability zoning plan led to a type of a symbiotic land use zoning that protected the most arable land from development, and allowed for the most floodable areas to become points of collection and treatment. The integrated rapport between new land subdivision mechanisms, suitability land use designations, a decentralized wastewater infrastructure, and responsive and adaptable built form typologies creates the ingredients for novel forms and patterns of urbanization on the suburban edge.

Fadi Masoud was appointed as a Visiting Fellow (2012-13) at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he just completed his Post-Professional MLAII degee. Fadi will continue his design and research work on the cross-section of landscape and planning, especially in places of extreme hydrological regimes and transboundary conditions.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Adaptation and Renewal in the Brazilian Drylands

By Jack Ohly, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar

Between 1999 and 2006, I spent a cumulative two years with a small collective of young farmers in the drylands of Northeastern Brazil. We worked to adapt models of sustainable agriculture to a semi-arid climate. While developing resilient agro-forestry systems to counter 50 years of devastating monoculture and deforestation, we came to realize how the same transformations that had degraded the environment had also eroded the region’s vibrant and deep-rooted culture.

ohly01Reaching out to community leaders, farmers, envi- ronmentalists, musicians and school teachers, we embarked on a broad, collaborative effort to revitalize cultural practices, organizing inter-generational workshops, seminars, work parties and an annual festival of traditional music that continues to this day. Raising appreciation of the endangered native scrub forest, demonstrating new rain harvesting systems and facilitating older singers teaching their songs to a new generation all contributed to a positive feedback loop in which we engaged the past to open people to new ideas and possibilities.

I was drawn to landscape architecture for its potential to address these kinds of intersections in a wide spectrum of contexts, integrating social needs, ecology and cultural dynamics into robust systems. At this time of great environmental and cultural loss, landscape architecture is poised to take a leading role in creating new ground, physical and imaginative, on which our natural and cultural heritage will thrive. While most of my student work focused on urban and post-industrial contexts, I see enormous potential in flexible, low-cost strategies that can help rural communities grow through profound and potentially destructive shifts in climate, culture and identity.

As the 2012 National Olmsted Scholar, I will return to Irece, Brazil to develop a set of regionally appropriate models for more ecologically and culturally vibrant public space. These models will be grounded in a survey study of dryland design techniques, regional conditions and history. They will emerge in dialogue with communities and local institutions, addressing the need for versatile social platforms, productive land and healthy, self-sustaining forest. Based on community interest , I hope to develop one or more pilot projects that explore and demonstrate how these potential uses might be layered together in mutually reinforcing ways.

I leave for Bahia tomorrow, August 7, to reconnect with old friends, initiate conversations, document conditions and seek out collaborators. It is my hope that the work will evolve over years, fostering imagination and agency, enriching civic life and contributing to a broader set of strategies for an increasingly culturally-homogenized and water-strained planet.

Jack Ohly just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania 3 year MLA program, where he received the Faculty Medal. He will begin work at Michael Van Valkenburgh’s office in Brooklyn later this month.