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Has Landscape Architecture Failed? Reflections on the Occasion of LAF’s 50th Anniversary

By Richard Weller and Billy Fleming, University of Pennsylvania

In 1966, Campbell Miller, Grady Clay, Ian McHarg, Charles Hammond, George Patton and John Simonds marched to the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and declared that an age of environmental crisis was upon us and that the profession of landscape architecture was a key to solving it. Their Declaration of Concern launched, and to this day underpins the workings of, the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF).

To mark its 50th anniversary, LAF will hold a summit titled The New Landscape Declaration at the University of Pennsylvania involving over 65 leading landscape architects from around the world. Delegates are being asked to deliver new declarations (manifestos, if you will) about the profession’s future. Drawing upon these statements and the dialogue at the summit, LAF will then redraft the original 1966 Declaration of Concern so that it serves to guide the profession into the 21st century.

On one level, redrafting the declaration is relatively straightforward: it would simply need to stress the twinned global phenomena of climate change and global urbanization — issues that were less well understood in 1966. On another level however, the redrafting of the declaration is profoundly complicated because if it is to be taken seriously, then a prerequisite is to ask why, after 50 years of asserting landscape architecture as “a key” to “solving the environmental crisis” does that crisis continue largely unabated? Seen in this light the declaration can be read as an admission of failure. Consequently, we must ask:

If McHarg and his colleagues were justified in placing such a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of landscape architects, why have we failed so spectacularly to live up to their challenge?

In our defense, we might argue that landscape architecture is a very young and very small profession and an even smaller academy. We can also protest, as many do, that other more established disciplines — such as engineering and architecture — have restrained our rise to environmental leadership. We can argue that the status quo of political decision-making makes it impossible for us to meaningfully scale up our operations and work in the territory where our services are needed most. These justifications (or excuses) all contain aspects of the truth, but we argue that landscape architecture over the last 50 years is less a story of abject failure and more one of a discipline taking the time that has been needed to prepare for a more significant role in this, the 21st century.

From the last 50 years of landscape architecture we have three models of professional identity and scope: the landscape architect as artist (for example, Peter Walker), the landscape architect as regional planner (for example, Ian McHarg), and the landscape architect as urban designer (for example, Charles Waldheim). Rather than see these as competing models cancelling each other out, perhaps what we have really learned from the last 50 years is that each is somewhat incomplete without the other. If however we make a concerted effort to combine these three models, then perhaps we begin to really give credence to the notion of landscape architecture as a uniquely holistic discipline, one especially well-suited to engage with the contemporary landscape of planetary urbanization and climate change.

Considering our historical moment, one is reminded of the incredible optimism with which the moderns announced theirs. In 1920 the great architect Le Corbusier launched his journal L’Esprit Nouveau with the declaration: “There is a new spirit: it is a spirit of construction and synthesis guided by a clear conception … A great epoch has begun.” A mere 46 years later a small group of landscape architects would declare that epoch as one of environmental crisis. And now, precisely 50 years later as we acknowledge their original Declaration of Concern, the International Commission on Stratigraphy is expected to formally announce the dawn of the Anthropocene Epoch: a new geological period defined by the fact that the earth’s systems are now fundamentally and irreversibly altered by human activity.

The philosophical and practical consequences couldn’t be greater: in short, Nature is no longer that ever-providing thing ‘out there’; it is, for better or worse, the world we have created and the world we are creating. The landscape of the Anthropocene is one of permanent ecological crisis. As such, the Anthropocene is overwhelming, but since it is by definition a human creation, the Anthropocene is something we must take responsibility for, something we can design. This doesn’t automatically mean the hyper modernity of geoengineering planetary systems, but it does return us, humbly and critically to McHarg’s concept of stewardship.

This is now landscape architecture’s century —  all the major issues of the times are at root about how we relate to land — and if by the end of it we are still small, weak and ineffectual, and if the world is a worse place than it is now, then we will only have ourselves to blame.

Richard Weller is the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He serves on the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Board of Directors. Billy Fleming is a Doctoral Fellow in City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania.

Thank You to Our 2016 Scholarship Jurors

Throughout its 50-year history, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has awarded scholarships to deserving students. This year, the total amount available increased significantly with the establishment of two new awards — the $20,000 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA and the $5,000 ASLA-NY Designing in the Public Realm Scholarship. The now 11 different scholarships and fellowships were established and made possible by their respective sponsors.

Scholarship winners are chosen through a competitive application and selection process. LAF convenes juries to decide the winners of four awards. We would like to extend a special thank you to this year’s jurors — we appreciate your commitment to supporting the next generation of designers!

LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA

Dennis Carmichael, FASLA LEED AP
Principal
ParkerRodriguez

Lucinda R. Sanders, FASLA
CEO and Partner
OLIN

Martha Schwartz, DSc, FASLA, Hon FRIBA, Hon RDI, RAAR
Principal
Martha Schwartz Partners

Gregg Sutton, PLA, ASLA
Principal
EDSA

Douglas Dockery Thomas Fellowship in Garden and Design Jury

Virginia L. Russell, FASLA, PLA, LEED AP, GRP
Associate Professor of Architecture, Horticulture Program Director
University of Cincinnati

Randall W. Mardis, ASLA, PLA
President / Landscape Architect
Landscape Technologies
 
Susan Olmsted, AIA, ASLA, LEED AP
Associate Principal
Mithun

Steven G. King Play Environments Scholarship Jury

Lisa Horne, PLA, LEED AP, ASLA
Project Manager
RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture

Kate Tooke, ASLA
Associate
Sasaki Associates

David Watts, PLA
Associate Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

Landscape Forms Design for People Scholarship Jury

James Burnett, FASLA
President
The Office of James Burnett

Dan Herman, ASLA
Principal
Rabben/Herman design office

Scott Rykiel, FASLA, LEED AP
Executive Vice President
Mahan Rykiel Associates

Dilemma, Debate and LAF in Salt Lake City

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) and its research initiatives will be well-represented at the upcoming Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Conference March 23-26 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Organized by Utah State University, the conference will also involve a day trip to the main campus in Logan, Utah.

cela-2016

LAF staff will present during two Concurrent Sessions, report to the CELA Board and Administrators during their respective meetings, and host a meet-and-greet for the 2016 CSI Research Fellows and past Landscape Performance Education Grant and Case Study Investigation (CSI) participants. The conference also features a number of presentations from LAF program participants, who will speak about their methods, findings, and further research.

In total, research from and about LAF’s various Landscape Performance Series initiatives will be part of seven sessions:

Concurrent Session 1, Thurs, 3/24, 8:00-9:20 am
Presentations:     Landscape Performance: A Bold Idea in a Change-Averse Town
                                Matthew James and Erika Roeber, South Dakota State University

                                Integrating Life-Cycle Costs with Landscape Performance
                                Yi Luo, Texas Tech University

                                Case Study Meta-Analysis: A Step Toward Informing Design
                                Mary Myers, Temple University
                                Bo Yang, Utah State University

Concurrent Session 2 - Thurs, 3/24, 9:30-10:50 am
The Role of Landscape Performance in Standardized Landscape Architecture Curricula
Panel with:            Andrew Fox, North Carolina State University
                                Kenneth Brooks, Arizona State University
                                Stephanie Rolley, Kansas State University
                                Emily McCoy, Andropogon and North Carolina State University
                                Arianna Koudounas, Landscape Architecture Foundation

Concurrent Session 2 - Thurs, 3/24, 9:30-10:50 am
Wadi Hanifah: Landscape Infrastructure for the 21st Century
Presentation by: Jean Trottier, University of Manitoba

Concurrent Session 5- Sat, 3/26, 8:00-9:20 am
Understanding Courtyards at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters: Methods to Quantify Use and Density
Presentation by: Chris Ellis, University of Maryland

Concurrent Session 6- Sat, 3/26, 9:30-10:50 am
Looking Beyond Case Studies in Social Performance Research: Replicable Surveys and Generalizable Outcomes
Panel with:            Mary Myers, Temple University
                                Taner Ozdil, University of Texas at Arlington
                                M. Elen Deming, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
                                Heather Whitlow, Landscape Architecture Foundation

Concurrent Session 8, Sat, 3/26, 2:00-3:20 pm
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters Heat Island Performance
Presentation by:   C. Dylan Reilly, University of Maryland

Concurrent Session 9, Sat, 3/26, 3:30-4:50 pm
Presentations:     Measuring the Social Performance of Food Production Landscapes
                                Ellen Burke, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

                                Evaluating Performance of Campus-based Agriculture: Is Bigger Better?
                                D. Scott Douglas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Landscape and Cultural Identity in a Globalizing World

By Daniel Xu, 2015 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

“Place makes memories cohere in complex ways. People’s experiences of the urban landscape intertwine the sense of place and the politics of space.”
                                                       — Dolores Hayden, Architectural Historian

A long time ago, a classmate of mine told me that he could not visually distinguish the difference between a Chinese, a Korean, and a Japanese person. I laughed and told him that sometimes I could not either, because our differences were not simply in our appearances, but in our minds and ideologies, which were influenced by the native culture we were born into. However, if our minds and ideologies are so heavily influenced by culture, what makes us different in the trend of globalization and acculturation? Are we slowly becoming the same? It is an intriguing question.

Prior to 2009, I was a resident of Chengdu, one of the most populated metropolises in Western China, where traditional Chinese quadrangle dwellings are preserved and conflated with contemporary urban fabric and lifestyle. Since then, I have been a student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana and a traveler to cities around the world. This experience has given me opportunities to immerse myself in diverse cultures, discover landscapes and urban spaces that are unique to different social environments, and tackle how local residents interact with those spaces.

chengdu01

Social psychologist Harold M. Proshansky believes that the cultural identity of a place is a sub-structure of a person’s self-identity and consists of knowledge and feelings developed through everyday experiences of physical spaces. Sometimes cultural identity and landscape are so tightly bounded that it is hard to separate them, like gardens in Versailles, Central Park in New York City, or a random prairie plateau in Aberdeen, Scotland. These spaces are historical or unique mainly because of local natural characteristics. They establish a balance between nature and human cultural activities and provide people a sense of place and belonging. However, in the global trend of uniformity and homogeneousness, how can one ensure a newly proposed landscape design can achieve the same effect? How can urban landscape enhance regional cultural identity and provide a sense a place?

To me, any given land contains information that is both tangible and intangible. It is almost natural for us to study the tangible aspects — hydrology, topography, vegetation, land use, soil type, spatial organization, and circulation system — because they have a direct relationship to the visual and ecological outcomes of a project. However, the cultural identity of a place derives from the intangible parts in which a piece of landscape functions to provide a sense of belonging — local history, tradition, religion, festivals, public desire, and other demographic information.

I demonstrated my beliefs in my past works during my time at Purdue. Natural Water as Cultural Water, a research project I did during junior year, sought to find the balance between culture and nature along the Wabash River in Lafayette, Indiana, which is currently underappreciated because of flooding, vacancy and disconnection. The proposed solution is an embodiment of cultural representation and technology of stormwater management. wabash02

The inspiration for the design comes from the city’s history — the transportation instrument Native Americans originally used on the river, and the major agricultural product of the region: corn. The geometric structure of the canoe and the matrix of the corn seeds were taken, hybridized and re-conceptualized into revelatory units to construct concave and convex landforms. It reroutes and collects water and serves as a buffer between the river and the city during flooding seasons. The plan provides a refuge for wetland plants and animal species. With potential for spontaneous use and dynamic programing, the site can transform into a sustainable landscape infrastructure with a cultural identity that provides an active waterfront experience. The regional planning phase of the project won the Award of Excellence in Analysis and Planning in the American Society of Landscape Architects 2013 Student Awards.

wabash03

For more information about the project, visit the ASLA award website: https://www.asla.org/2013studentawards/128.html, or my personal website: http://www.minimaxstudio.com/

Daniel received his Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture with a minor in Fine Arts from Purdue University in May 2015. He is currently working at Sasaki Associates in Boston.

2016 CSI Projects and Firms Announced

LAF has selected 15 high-performing landscape projects for its 2016 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program. CSI is a unique research collaboration that matches LAF-funded faculty-student research teams with design practitioners to document the benefits of exemplary landscape projects.

Participants from each firm will work with the 2016 CSI Research Fellows to evaluate the environmental, social, and economic performance of the selected projects. The resulting Case Study Briefs are published to LAF’s award-winning Landscape Performance Series database of over 100 projects.

This year’s cohort comprises a range of project typologies, including three waterfront parks, a stormwater treatment facility, an EPA Region headquarters, a stream restoration, and several landmark urban parks. The 2016 projects will add unrepresented geographies — namely Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, and Canada — to the Landscape Performance Series.

The 2016 CSI program kicks off in February and runs through early August. The resulting Case Study Briefs from these participating firms and projects will be published in the fall: 

  • phippsconservatoryAndropogon's Phipps Conservatory

    2D Studio
    Fairview Environmental Park, Montgomery, AL

  • Andropogon
    Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA
    University of Pennsylvania - Shoemaker Green, Philadelphia, PA
  • BNIM
    EPA Region 7 Headquarters, Lenexa, KS
    Swope Campus Parking Lot, Kansas City, MO
  • HNP Landscape Architecture
    Samford Park at Toomer’s Corner Landscape, Auburn, AL
  • hto-parkJanet Rosenberg + Associates' HtO ParkJanet Rosenberg + Associates
    HtO Park, Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Kansas City Water Services Department
    Middle Blue River Basin Green Solutions Pilot Project, Kansas City, MO
  • Mia Lehrer + Associates
    Vista Hermosa, Los Angeles, CA
  • Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
    Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY
    Corktown Common, Toronto, ON, Canada
  • PFS Studio
    Sherbourne Common Park, Toronto, ON, CanadarailroadparkTom Leader Studio's Railroad Park
  • Psomas
    South Los Angeles Wetland Park, Los Angeles, CA
  • SWA Group
    Shenzhen Bay, Shenzhen, China
  • Tom Leader Studio
    Railroad Park, Birmingham, AL

We look forward to working with the firms and learning more about these amazing projects and their impacts!