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Leaders Roundtable: Technology and the Landscape

Each year, LAF and Landscape Forms co-host a Leaders Roundtable to foster dialogue among distinguished design professionals about emerging trends in design and professional practice.

In June, fourteen leading landscape architects met in Philadelphia to explore the impact of technology on the design of the landscape, the experience of landscape, and the way professionals conduct their practices. The meeting was moderated by landscape architect Rodrigo Abela of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, who kicked off the discussion by observing that, “The people in this room are probably the last generation who will remember the world before we were connected.”

While participants’ use of digital technology varied, all were very aware of the way cell phones, laptops and tablets impact the design and use of outdoor spaces. A short video and excerpts from the dialogue are below. For a full summary of the conversation, see the Roundtable Report on Technology and the Landscape.

“Two hundred years ago the landscape was the source of productivity in human settlement. It would be amazing if technology could make us more productive in the landscape again. Landscapes are good for you. The more we can encourage work activity out there, the better.”
                    — Richard Roark, LEED AP, OLIN

“People in cities are not necessarily looking for a full-blown experience of nature, but they are interested in being outside and bringing technology with them. If we embrace technology in a helpful way and make even the smallest space incredible, that will help them notice nature in those moments when they look up from the screen.”
                    — Laura Solano, PLA, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

“Metric technology will make us better informed about people and the environments we design for them. It’s inescapable.”
                    — Lee Weintraub, FASLA, Lee Weintraub Landscape Architecture

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Making Connections - Science, Urgency, and Opportunities

By Matthew Gonser, 2012 University Olmsted Scholar

Our built environment reflects how and what we learn and what we believe is important to convey. The physical plan and its operations should embody our sustainability values. Also, “Students aren’t dumb.”

This quote, from my boss, Dr. E. Gordon Grau, the Director of the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program (UH Sea Grant), preceded the above declaratory principles during a 2-day conference held this past August at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). The conference, which focused on rainwater catchment, was organized by UH Sea Grant with the support of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and the Center for a Sustainable Future. One of the many outcomes from this 2-day event was a statement of principles and list of potential pilot projects that reflect the science, urgency, and opportunities for optimizing our water resources here in Hawai‘i. Certain principles and projects spoke directly to the role of the University in demonstrating forward thinking and prudent activities as they relate to education, planning, design, and operations of our facilities and grounds.

We at the University have the privilege to conduct research, educate, and dream. But it should also be acknowledged that our facilities have as much influence on students (if not more) as what they are being taught in the classroom. That is, are we walking the proverbial walk?

gonser01UHM campus from above Mānoa Valley looking toward Diamond Head Crater and Waikīkī

UHM is located at the opening of Mānoa Valley on the island of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. As the flagship campus of the public UH system, and one of O‘ahu’s greatest users of municipal water, UHM has the obligation to lead and demonstrate innovative solutions and practices to manage our constrained resources, through any number of activities: efficiency of fixtures, rainwater catchment, education and conservation efforts, stormwater retention and recycling for non-potable uses, etc. To that end, it is not only the responsibility of students to push for moving beyond status quo practices, but so too should faculty and staff (while still towing a fine line between advocacy and disrespect for a collective University operation).

An aspect of my position as an extension educator is making connections: to connect knowledge with users, research with application, and people with people. I am in the fortunate position of helping those with energy and resources connect with those who are interested in learning, collaborating, and contributing additional resources. Though UHM does not have a Landscape Architecture (LA) program, it does have faculty members with LA degrees (including two new hires that began this semester in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning and in the School of Architecture, respectively). It also has a variety of expertise and a culture that understands the necessity of seeking out others to co-produce with.

gonser02The Sustainability Courtyard from the balcony of UH Sea Grant

From just two days of faculty, staff, students, government officials, and trade experts sitting, talking, and listening, we have realized shared interests and a willingness to support each other. One manifestation is developing an entry into the EPA’s Campus RainWorks Challenge, a student competition for innovative green infrastructure design on campus. A target project is the ambitiously named “Sustainability Courtyard”. This conspicuously verdant and busy courtyard, with food vendors, a free bike pump, art installations, and a student managed edible garden, provides the opportunity to highlight the science, urgency, and opportunities for optimizing our water resources.

gonser03The courtyard is an active campus node.


With a diverse team of designers, scientists, engineers, and artists involved, the project also demonstrates the fruitfulness of working together. As the campus updates its Landscape Master Plan and Drainage Plan, a student supported vision for conservation, re-use, and celebration of water resources could be an important step in the continued efforts for the campus’ physical plan and operations to embody our sustainability values.

Since March, Matthew has held the position of Extension Faculty, Community Planning and Design, with the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program. His work includes research for and organization of workshops, conferences, publications, and other outreach and education materials for (and in cooperation with) citizens, community groups, non-profits, and public agencies, focused on livability, sustainability, and resource management issues in Hawai‘i.

LAF Board Member Chip Crawford Joins Forum Studio

LAF past President and current Board Member Chip Crawford, FASLA has joined Forum Studio as Senior Principal in the St. Louis, Missouri office, where he will lead a dynamic team of planners, landscape architects and urban designers. Chip comes to Forum from HOK where he built the HOK Planning Group, a global business unit of the renowned architecture firm.

chipcrawford-forumAccording to the press release from Forum Studio:

“We are set to bolster our presence and build Forum Studio in to a leading design firm with global reach. Having an internationally recognized landscape architect like Chip Crawford is a key component to our strategy,” said Chris Cedergreen, Forum president and senior principal. “Chip is a legendary leader in the industry for 28 years. His design vision, leadership and experience are critical differentiators that will help us deliver on our promise of expertise-driven, performance-based design.”

“Forum Studio presents an exciting opportunity for me to design in a truly collaborative environment, where innovative design ideas meet real-world construction and implementation expertise,” said Chip. “As the name suggests, it’s the forum that we are creating that enables us to deliver outstanding results for clients. I am thrilled to be a part of that.”

Chip has served on the LAF Board since 2005 and had been instrumental in the foundation’s growth with his big-picture thinking, global perspective, interest in performance. Congratulations to Chip and Forum!

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 (www.landscapevoice.com) 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] gmail.com.