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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: Design Intervention to Preserve Salmon Habitat at Pebble Mine

By McKenzie Wilhelm, 2013 National Olmsted Scholar

Since 2008, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a mining conglomerate with mineral rights to the Pebble Claim, has been preparing to submit permits for one of the most controversial mine proposals of the 21st century. The proposed mine is located between the Nushagak and Kvichak rivers in the Bristol Bay watershed. These two major tributaries are home to the most prolific salmon runs in the world. Indigenous Alaskans in this area rely on salmon for subsistence and have traditions thousands of years old that entwine the salmon’s survival with their own.

pebblemineMining in such close proximity to this unparalleled salmon habitat has the potential to cause social, economic and ecological damage as natural resources are unearthed and toxic by-products are created. It is, however, unrealistic to believe that these processes will be abandoned to preserve fragile ecosystems given the size and net profit projected for this deposit.

The copper and gold deposit at the heart of the conflict is valued at US$500 billion in profit, rendering strip mining in this sensitive ecology almost inevitable as PLP continues to pour money into preparation for the permitting process. (Pebble Limited Partnership, Project Environmental Baseline Document, 2004-2008. Accessed on web: Sept 4, 2013) Political tensions are continuously escalating between local tribes, PLP, the EPA and Alaska’s state government, adding complexity to the sociocultural context. While many continue to contest the mine’s construction, no research is being focused on how to minimize the threatening effects of mining processes on fragile salmon habitat.

Instead of fighting what seems to be an inevitable mining venture, a balance between conservation and devastation can be forged through design intervention. Olmsted Scholar David Shimmel and I are currently conducting site analysis and research about the mining process to understand its possible impacts on the Alaskan ecosystem. Our proposal shifts the focus of design from the human to the salmon. Salmon interact with a wide variety of habitats as they migrate from Bristol Bay to headwater spawning grounds within the PLP’s mining claim. By preserving the condition of salmon habitat, the surrounding community is also protected.

We are currently working through the site analysis phase of the project that will develop into one or more models for proposed design intervention as the year progresses. This summer, as the 2013 National Undergraduate Olmsted Scholar, I plan to visit the site with David to share our research with local communities. We will be in Alaska for about two weeks documenting this sensitive ecological area at the peak of salmon harvest and networking with local leaders and tribes to establish connections that can help refine and inform our continued research.

McKenzie is currently working on her undergraduate thesis entitled “Big Data at Pebble Mine: Toward a Critical Theorization of Empiricism in Site Analysis” and working on Pebble Mine research with MLA candidate David Shimmel at Ohio State University. She is also a part-time intern at NBBJ in Columbus, Ohio.

Announcing Our 2013 National Olmsted Scholars

The Landscape Architecture Foundation is pleased to announce that Leann Andrews, a graduate student at the University of Washington, and McKenzie Wilhelm, an undergraduate at the Ohio State University, were selected as the 2013 National Olmsted Scholars. Leann receives the $25,000 prize, and McKenzie is the first recipient of the new $15,000 award for undergraduates. This year marks the first that LAF has offered separate recognition and awards for graduate and undergraduate students.

andrews-500x700Leann Andrews, University of Washington

In June, Leann will receive a Master of Landscape Architecture with a Certificate in Global Health. She plans use the award to return to Lima, Peru to implement her certificate capstone project: a community gardening and ecological restoration initiative designed to improve nutrition, increase mobility, reduce illness, improve mental health and well-being, and contribute to economic stability and social infrastructure in a distressed informal ‘slum’ community.

McKenzie is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture and expects to graduate in May 2014. She plans to use the award to travel to Bristol Bay and the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska to research and develop speculative designs for alternative mining practices and modular intervention to enhance and protect salmon habitat.

Also honored are six National Olmsted Scholar Finalists, who each receive a $1,000 award. The graduate finalists are:

  • Jose Alvarez, Florida International University
  • Tina Chee, University of Southern California
  • Graham Prentice, University of Pennsylvania

The undergraduate finalists are:

  • Zachary Barker, State University of New York
  • Pamela Blackmore, Utah State University
  • Eliza Rodrigs, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
wilhelm-288wMcKenzie Wilhelm, Ohio State University

An independent jury of leaders in the landscape architecture profession selected the winners and finalists from a group of 39 graduate and 28 undergraduate students who were nominated by their faculty for being exceptional student leaders. These top students earned the designation of 2013 University Olmsted Scholars and join the growing community of 243 past and present Olmsted Scholars.

The 2013 jury members for the graduate award were: Bill Main, Honorary ASLA, LAF Board President and Executive Chairman of Landscape Forms; Mark A. Focht, FASLA, PLA, ASLA President-Elect and First Deputy Commissioner at Philadelphia Parks + Recreation; Joseph J. Lalli, FASLA, Chairman and Principal at EDSA; Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, CEO of OLIN; Perry Howard, FASLA, Associate Professor and Coordinator at North Carolina A&T State University; Andrew Spiering, Land8 Media, LLC; Jack Ohly, 2012 National Olmsted Scholar and Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates, Inc.

Jurors for the undergraduate award were: Jacinta McCann, FAILA, LAF Board President-Elect and Executive Vice President at AECOM; Susan Hatchell, FASLA, PLA, ASLA Immediate Past President and President of Susan Hatchell Landscape Architecture, PLLC; Jim Laiche, Business Manager at The Toro Company; Elizabeth Brabec, JD, ASLA, Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; George Schmok, Publisher/Producer at Landscape Communications, Inc.

Now in its sixth year, the Olmsted Scholars Program is the premier national award and recognition program for landscape architecture students. Past National Olmsted Scholars include Andrea Gaffney from the University of California, Berkeley (2008), David Malda from the University of Virginia (2009), Emily Vogler from the University of Pennsylvania (2010), Kate Tooke from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (2011), and Jack Ohly from the University of Pennsylvania (2012).

Olmsted Scholars Program: New $15,000 Undergraduate Award

LAF is pleased to announce a new $15,000 award for undergraduate students as part of its renowned Olmsted Scholars Program.

“The new award will recognize the high level of talent and leadership potential present in undergraduate programs,” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA.

To date LAF has recognized 175 Olmsted Scholars. With the new award for undergraduate students, LAF will increase the number of Olmsted Scholars recognized each year and further strengthen its commitment to cultivate the next generation of leaders in the profession.

The new $15,000 award complements the existing $25,000 award, which will now be available only to graduate nominees. Previously, undergraduate students competed with graduate students both for their school’s nomination and for the national award. Up to three graduate and three undergraduate finalists will be selected with each receiving $1,000.

“LAF is delighted to offer such a significant financial award exclusively for undergraduate students,” said Deutsch. ”We are grateful to the sponsors who are making this award possible through their continuing pledges. LAF is pleased to recognize Toro, EDSA, HOK and OLIN for their continuing support of the Olmsted Scholars Program.”

University nominations are due to LAF by February 15, 2013. Full applications are due March 15. The first $15,000 prize will be announced in May and awarded at LAF’s 28th Annual Benefit on Friday evening, November 15, 2013 in conjunction with the ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston.