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Meet the 2015 National Olmsted Scholar and Finalists: The Undergraduates

The Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholars Program is the premier national award and recognition program for landscape architecture students. The program honors students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service, and leadership to advance sustainable design and foster human and societal benefits.

Here, we showcase the 2015 undergraduate winner and finalists, who were announced last spring. An independent jury of leaders in the landscape architecture profession selected them from a group of 29 undergraduate students nominated by their faculty for being exceptional student leaders. The winner receives the $15,000 undergraduate prize and each finalist receives $1,000. All of the 2015 Olmsted Scholars will be honored at LAF’s Annual Benefit in Chicago on November 6.


National Olmsted Scholar Maria Muñoz of Louisiana State University

Maria discusses her research on food security in Puerto Rico and how enhancements to the existing network of local vendors and their sources of home-grown agricultural products could offer a more environmentally sustainable and resilient type of agricultural system.


Finalist Erin McDonald of Iowa State University

In this slideshow, Erin reflects on what landscape architecture and art mean to her. She also discusses opportunities as she embraces her new city: Houston, Texas.


Finalist Nathaniel Oakley of the University of California, Davis

Nathaniel shares his interest in finding sustainable and regenerative design solutions for landscapes affected by large scale and aging flood control infrastructure, using the examples of the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena and the Arroyo Seco channel in Los Angeles, California.


Finalist Daniel Zhicheng Xu of Purdue University

[Video coming in December]


LAF Events at the ASLA Annual Meeting

Heading to Chicago for the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO? We hope you’ll join us for some or all of the following events to celebrate, support, and raise awareness about LAF and its transformative programs. Between receiving two ASLA Professional Awards and kicking off the festivities for our 50th anniversary in 2016, it will be an epic series of events. We hope to see you!

starrynightStarry Night, LAF’s 30th Annual Benefit
Fri, Nov 6, 7:00-10:30pm
Adler Planetarium

Join top designers and leaders from practice, academia, and industry for a star-filled evening at the Adler Planetarium where floor to ceiling windows and outdoor terraces offer awe-inspiring views of the Chicago skyline. Enjoy cocktails, fine local food, and amazing company, all while raising money to support LAF’s research and scholarship programs.

Landscape Performance: Determining What and How to Measure
Fri, Nov 6, 1:30-3pm
McCormick Place, Room E451A, Level 4
Don’t miss this Education Session moderated by LAF’s Heather Whitlow and featuring Skip Graffam of OLIN, Emily McCoy of Andropogon Associates, and Allyson Mendenhall of Design Workshop. Panelist will present widely applicable metrics and methods for environmental, social, and economic performance and share insights on gathering baseline data, setting objectives, and evaluating performance of built projects.

photocollage2LAF Booth in ASLA Expo Hall (#2821)
Sat-Sun, Nov 7-8, 9:00am-5:00pm
McCormick Place
Visit our booth to learn more about LAF, help kick off our 50th anniversary celebration in our photobooth, and try out the award-winning

ASLA Professional Awards Ceremony
Mon, Nov 9, 12:00-1:00pm
McCormick Place - Lakeside Center, Arie Crown Theater
See the best in landscape architecture from the U.S. and around the world. LAF’s Landscape Performance Series will receive the 2015 Award of Excellence in Communications, and our Case Study Investigation (CSI) program will be recognized with an Honor Award for Research.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Ethnicity and Urban Park Design – Re-Envisioning South Omaha

By Katie Leise, 2015 University Olmsted Scholar

Public parks provide essential green space for people to congregate, exercise, and seek respite from the city. Since the conception of Central Park in the mid-1800s, planners and designers have strived to meet the evolving needs and profiles of urban park users. Therefore, understanding contemporary user recreation patterns and preferences is critical for relevant urban park design.

Several factors, including ethnicity, influence leisure styles and should be considered when designing parks. My Master’s Report, Re-Envisioning South Omaha Urban Parks with Community Diversity in Mind, tackles that subject with a focus on parks in South Omaha, Nebraska. Residents living in this area comprise over ten different ethnic groups. Notably, Omaha’s largest Hispanic community resides in South Omaha as well.

Through quantitative and qualitative research, including site analysis, precedent studies, and community interviews, five central themes emerged:

  1. Community Engagement
  2. Range of Recreational Activities
  3. Spatial Relationships, Design, and Design Details
  4. Parks as Social Space
  5. Maintenance, Operations, and Expectations

The themes, particularly Range of Recreational Activities and Spatial Relationships, Design, and Design Details, influence a strategy that strives to redesign urban parks in South Omaha with goals of form, function, and foundation. The design goals respond to the community’s unique ethnic composition while maintaining flexible use for all residents and visitors.


Conceptual redesigns for Lynch Park and Spring Lake Park illustrated the design goals. The proposals incorporated the leisure preferences and recreation patterns as revealed through community interviews of the Hispanic majority as well as the European, Asian, and African minority ethnic groups. The most commonly identified desires by South Omaha residents were flexible spaces, several picnic areas for large groups, continued park maintenance and upkeep, and scheduled events for residents to engage and grow relationships within their community. Connecting with local residents at convenient locations throughout South Omaha was critical to the design process.

southomaha02Conceptual redesign for South Omaha's Lynch Park

Unprogrammed spaces are key to urban parks, particularly when the community exhibits various cultural roots. Flexible areas allow visitors to utilize the space as needed to fit their recreational desires on an individual or community-wide basis. Beyond design, scheduled events at urban parks also contribute to their overall success. Utilizing local organizations and encouraging them to host activities in the parks promotes continued use. People attract people, and in ethnic groups where social life is central, activating the park is as important as the design itself.

Maintenance and upkeep, though difficult tasks, also influence visitor participation. Maintenance plans that prioritize frequently used parks contribute to the appeal and popularity of the park. Additionally, knowledgeable staff and multi-lingual signage help ethnic minority participants feel comfortable in the park environment, promote safety, and discourage discrimination.

Ethnicity is one important consideration among many that should be incorporated into urban park design. Successful urban park design ultimately responds to a community uniquely, keeping in mind, but not singling out ethnicity. As the United States continues to diversity, community-oriented design is increasingly important to landscape architects.

To read the full Re-Envisioning South Omaha Urban Parks with Community Diversity in Mind report, visit:

Katie Leise completed her Master of Landscape Architecture from Kansas State University in May 2015.  She is currently employed with Kimley-Horn & Associates in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Extraordinary Gift Launches New $20,000 Honor Scholarship

A generous gift from Jeanne Dawson-Lalli has created the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA. This new $20,000 scholarship will be awarded annually to a student pursuing a Master’s degree in landscape architecture at an accredited university in the U.S. or Canada.

The scholarship was established in memory of Joseph J. Lalli, FASLA (1943-2014) and his 46-year career as a landscape architect, artist, philanthropist, mentor, and teacher. Joe was the chairman and former president of the firm EDSA and had more than 500 projects to his credit in 40 countries. He was a persuasive leader, well-known and admired for his modesty and generosity. Joe experienced great value in his Master’s degree and wanted to help make the opportunity for graduate education accessible to others.

jeanne-and-joeJeanne Dawson-Lalli and Joe Lalli (both huge Miami Heat fans)

“We are honored to be able to offer such a significant award that serves as part of Joe’s wonderful legacy.” said LAF Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA. “Joe exemplified ‘giving back’ and did much to support students and foster the development of the next generation of leaders in landscape architecture. This scholarship will help and inspire students for years to come.”

Candidates for the new scholarship must show commitment to some of the areas that Joe Lalli dedicated himself to, including drawing, artistic pursuits, the importance of travel, and service to one’s community and profession.

“Joe credited his graduate studies for making him the outstanding designer he was. He also learned so much from drawing, painting and traveling extensively — it influenced his designs and his way of thinking,” said Jeanne Dawson-Lalli, who established the scholarship in memory of her late husband. “Similarly, I hope that this award allows promising students to continue their studies and pursue their passions to feed their creativity.”

The LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA is the largest scholarship offered by the Landscape Architecture Foundation. LAF is now able to offer a total of over $60,000 annually in scholarships and fellowships for students through ten different awards.

Learn more about LAF scholarships at:

Olmsted Scholar Feature: The Cultural Landscapes of Okhamandal, Gujarat, India

By Heena Gajjar, 2015 University Olmsted Scholar

Okhamandal in Gujarat, considered as one of the four holy sites across the Indian subcontinent, is facing drastic pressures of climate change leading to rising sea levels, salt ingress, desertification, unproductive land, and scarcity of water for drinking and farming. Its hertitage sites also face a severe threat from modern day development.

My graduate thesis project, Journeys in the Cultural Landscapes of Okhamandal, explores various site-specific design interventions to deal with the above issues. I propose an ecological framework model for heritage conservation with the aim of raising awareness about how harmony between nature and culture can be promoted through planning and design. Specifically the study is useful to:

  1. Understand the overlap between mythology and history in the making of cultural heritage in the Indian subcontinent
  2. Learn how ecological planning can contribute to heritage conservation
  3. Apply reclamation strategies for coastal erosion and salt ingress
okhamandal01Mapping of natural features and environmental disturbances

Okhamandal was formerly an island and is now a peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, which lies between the desert and the sea. The name ‘Okhamandal’ derives from ‘Okha’ - the only and ‘Mandal’ - an island. The Hindu god Krishna established his kingdom in antiquity on this island. Upon his death, the sacred city of Dwarka was swallowed by the sea, a legend corroborated by underwater archaeological findings dating back to the 15th century BCE on the coastal edge of Okhamandal (Rao, 1999; Gaur, 2004).

Myth and history overlap in this landscape of immense cultural significance, and I see this as an opportunity to understand Krishna beyond a deity as an active, living divine consciousness that permeates the environment. I believe Krishna consciousness can help in re-establishing the link with the cosmic order that ensures the balance between nature and culture. Though considered complex in its linkage, if perceived in a sympathetic and holistic manner, the relationship can be interpreted as: nature, the primary force or the cosmic order governing our existence, and culture as a collective set of norms that shape the landscape. Together nature and culture define the landscape and are responsible for our evolution and sustenance.

okhamandal02Design for sea edge condition to mitigate coastal erosion and water level rise. Floating deck with periscope allows visitors to view the underwater archaeological discoveries.

In projecting a future for reclamation and heritage conservation of Okhamandal, I studied landscape processes and documented sacred and archaeological sites. The biggest issue of the region is salt ingress increasing at a rate of 30 hectare per year. Salt intrusion has a direct relationship with groundwater that is depleting at significantly high rate. My design proposals would help to replenish ground water and hold rain water in reclaimed ponds and wetlands. I propose floating green islands to reduce the impact of sea waves and prevent coastal erosion and mangrove edge as a permeable layer to mitigate the rising sea level. The main intention is to educate, encourage and empower the local communities and pilgrims visiting the place.

okhamandal03A vision of a reclaimed Okhamandal

The full project report can be accessed at:

Heena Gajjar is in her final year of study toward a Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. This is her graduate thesis project. In summer 2015, Heena participated in the SWA Summer Student Program and worked in the Dallas and San Francisco offices.