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Olmsted Scholar Feature: DesignConnect

by Christopher Roth Hardy, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

Members of many communities share a common, if unstated, vision for their home. It may take the form of a revitalized historic district, a new waterfront, a safe playground or simply more street trees.

Most projects require personal and public investment to make these changes happen. To gain this public investment, local groups often need to invest in competitive documentation to get public grants to enable these changes. These groups may have the public mandate to make change, but not the resources to create the documentation to gain financial support. This creates a public improvement ‘Catch 22’ in economically distressed small communities.

designconnect1The DesignConnect team in early 2010

In 2008, Jennifer Ng and I started a student-run organization called DesignConnect at Cornell University, with the support of our faculty mentors Peter Trowbridge, Dan Krall, Jamie Vanucchi, Deni Ruggeri and Pike Oliver. The organization enables design, planning and engineering students to volunteer on public improvement projects in communities in Upstate New York. Students receive academic credit in addition to their curriculum required courses. The students work with a community sponsor and faculty advisor to develop and execute a design strategy for each project.

designconnect2DesignConnect at a public meeting with the Friends of the Chemung River Watershed

The design strategy generally includes participatory workshops to develop a community articulated vision for the projects in addition to site analysis, feasibility studies, design documentation and production. The local governments can use the documentation to further grant applications and inform local spending allocations in public space.

This past summer, DesignConnect made a successful transition to the new student administration. Currently, over 70 students are engaged in 8 different projects in communities across Upstate New York. They are continuing to bring in new projects, coordinate faculty partnerships and enable students to work on projects ranging in size from park master plans to new gazebos.

I have moved to New York City, and am now working for Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. Here, I have had the opportunity to be staff member on a large scale schematic design project, to take a small public space project in Queens that I designed as an intern into construction documents and to assist on other projects across the boroughs. While at Cornell I focused my studies on community participation and the front-end aspects of master planning and design. Here at MNLA, I’m learning about the complexity of construction in New York City and the latter stages of design and documentation. I have been pleased to discover that my interest in horticulture, design, construction, community action, and even environmental toxicology are all part of my work experience. I have been able to observe some of the initial DesignConnect projects receive grants and move toward RFPs, and I continue to support these communities as opportunities arise. I am amazed at the diversity and depth of knowledge that is required to practice in our field - from politics to pavers - and I have the good fortune to learn from a new set of mentors.

Chris Hardy graduated from Cornell University in May with a Masters in Landscape Architecture. He now lives in Brooklyn and works for Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. Outside of work, Chris is discovering his new community and has started volunteering in his neighborhood on a small design-build public space.

LPS Resources are Growing with the Help of Submitters, Research Assistants...and You!

Have you checked out the Landscape Performance Series lately? Since the September launch, we’ve added new Case Studies, Factoids, Tools and Scholarly Works. New Case Study Briefs include contributions from Peter Walker and Partners, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), and Mithun.

uva-rakatieUVA First-year MLA student Katie JenkinsOther resources have been added thanks to our stellar team of Research Assistants. Katie Jenkins and Erica Thatcher, both MLA students at the University of Virginia, are working with professor Kristina Hill to identify new sources for LPS content. Katie has been combing the university databases to seek out factoids from published research and build our collection of student theses and dissertations related to landscape performance. Erica has compiled research on landscape benefits related to soil health and is working to produce a Case Study Brief on the Dell at UVA.

Kent Milson, a Masters of Urban Planning student at Texas A&M, is working with Department Head Forster Ndubisi to identify online calculators and uva-raericaUVA third-year MLA student Erica Thatchertools that can be used to quantify the landscape performance benefits of projects.

You, too, can contribute by sending us any leads on Tools, Factoids, and Scholarly Works. Or showcase your good work by submitting a case study to our growing database of exemplary built projects.

The deadline to submit for the upcoming round of review and publication is Tues, Nov 30. The next call won’t be until April 2011, so submit your case study today!

Carl D. Johnson, FASLA (1926-2010)

LAF was saddened to learn of the passing of Carl D. Johnson, FASLA, founder or the firm Johnson, Johnson, and Roy (JJR) in 1961 with his brother William and fellow landscape architect Clarence Roy. Johnson died in Ann Arbor on October 24, 2010, at the age of 84.

Johnson served on the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Board of Directors in the 1980s and was largely responsible for the establishment of the JJR Research Grant, which supported the LAF’s Land and Community Design Case Study Series of published books and our new Landscape Performance Series.

carljohnsonJohnson was JJR’s guiding force in planning and design for over 30 years. He had a special passion for drawing and watercolor, and his approach to design frequently made use of conversational graphics as sketches intended to stimulate discussion of design approaches and solutions. His talent in design and illustration were surpassed only by his ability to communicate the contributions that landscape architects make to preserve and shape both the natural and built environments. His professional legacy includes internationally significant and lasting work in the fields of restoration and adaptive reuse of historic landscapes, including of the City of Louisville’s famous Cherokee Park, what became the Lighthouse Landing Park in Evanston, and rehabilitation of the C.S. Mott Estate, Applewood, in Flint, Michigan.

Johnson was committed not only to his professional practice but to developing the next generation of planning and design leaders. He taught at the University of Michigan there for 29 years and presented guest lectures at more than 20 architecture and landscape architecture schools thoughout the continent and overseas, all while maintaining an active practice at JJR. In 1989 he retired from teaching and was named Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture at the University of Michigan.

Johnson consistently supported the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) at the local chapter and national levels. Named an ASLA Fellow in 1979, Carl Johnson was awarded the Society’s highest honor, the ASLA Medal, in 2000. With the exception of the Olmsted brothers, he and his brother William are the only siblings to have been so honored by ASLA.

For a complete biography, visit the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s Pioneers of American Landscape Design.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Invasive Infrastructure - Free and Radical

by David Godshall, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

One of the starkest dichotomies on which the profession of landscape architecture is built is a distinction between healthy, ‘sustainable’ landscapes and derelict, unwanted spaces. Much of my research involves the idioms in which landscape architecture could creatively engage with these latter spaces. The dichotomy can be drawn along many lines, but perhaps nowhere is it more obvious than it is with respect to plants.

04-dgodshallinvasive01We live in a moment in which plants are meticulously categorized, scrutinized, studied, and ultimately, judged. Species that meet specific, value-based criteria (natives!) are celebrated in magazines, newly built landscapes, and plant nurseries. Meanwhile, species deemed to be invasive undergo a kind of tacit persecution. Their snapshots are posted on websites; their locations are mapped, tracked, and surveilled; conferences are even held in which we listen to lectures on how to eradicate the species entirely. One would think, on initial perusal through any pro-native/anti-invasive website or literature, that the argument is really as simple as regarding some plants as rightful citizens 04-dgodshallinvasive02of a landscape, others as “illegals.”

Invasive species, in many instances, are truly harmful. They choke out native flora, overtake riparian corridors, and diminish the availability of habitat for native or naturalized fauna. In large parks and wilderness areas, which often serve as the last oasis for native plant communities, they are clearly the most damaging. Yet, something interesting happens when we shift the context from a wilderness area to a derelict urban space. Invasive plants are often the only species capable of 04-dgodshallinvasive03effectively colonizing and flourishing in polluted urban areas. On vacant lots and street edges they sprout from cracks and seams in the urban carpet, and serve as free, non-planned tracts of urban wilderness. These fragmentary ecological landscapes provide lonely habitats for species that don’t understand their own biological reality in terms of nativism and its opposites.

The dilemma of invasive plants, and the semantic overlap between the way in which we talk about them and the way in which we talk about issues like immigration, gentrification, globalization, and the criminal system, has been guiding much of the research, writing, and art I’ve been focusing on lately. I’ve recently begun hiking into wilderness areas at night and photographing invasive plants in a manner reminiscent of the tabloid photography of Weegee—literally catching these plants in the moment of their crimes. By contrast, I have also begun documenting them in less lurid daytime moments, in an attempt to capture their ecological complexity and visual appeal. In addition, I’ve been working hard on the publication of the second issue of Landskrape Heartattachture, an inflammatory but engaging journal about ‘Landscape’ and all its ramifications. The second issue will be released soon. If you’d like to be involved or get a copy of the first journal, please email me at

David Godshall graduated from UC Berkeley with a Masters in Landscape Architecture, and after a brief and wonderful sojourn to Hawaii, began working for Peter Walker and Partners in Berkeley, California. He is currently working on the design development phase of a waterfront park in Australia for PWP.

Olmsted Scholar Feature: Design Communication

by Amanda Jeter, 2010 National Olmsted Scholar Finalist

The profession of landscape architecture offers a nuanced understanding of how to design meaningful cultural places that have positive relationships with environmental systems. Unfortunately our ability to convey this vital message to the public is limited by our communication skills. Upon his retirement as editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, William Thompson commented that “overall, writing in this profession is in a very sad state [and landscape architecture] will never reach its full potential in this age of communication with the handicap of bad writing” (The Dirt ASLA, 9/14/2009). To help improve communication, I have directed my research and advocacy focus as a graduate landscape architecture student to help promote writing skills and design communication within the profession.

In 2008, I led a group of fellow first-year graduate MLA students at the University of Colorado Denver to start ROOT—an annual publication highlighting the values and concerns of landscape architecture students and professionals. The 2009 inaugural issue, Unexpected Landscapes, featured an interview with Walter Hood, an article about the efforts of Chilean landscape architects to recover native plant materials, and a piece exploring the trapezoidal green roof installation on David Adjaye’s Denver Museum of Contemporary Art.


A visit by former ASLA president Angela Dye inspired the 2010 ROOT topic, Resourceful Obstacles. Mark Twain commented that “whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over,” and Resourceful Obstacles addresses Colorado water law and its attendant limitations on sustainable water use as well as economic and theoretical obstacles to ingenious design. Resourceful Obstacles features contributions by Michael Leccese (former senior editor of Landscape Architecture magazine), a profile on landscape architect and acclaimed writer Anne Whiston Spirn, and a case study on the effects of Colorado’s water law through the story of Riverside Cemetery.

Visit to see PDFs of both publications and post comments on our blog. Also on the ROOT website is information on submitting articles to ROOT volume 3, Forgotten Spaces.

Amanda received her Master’s Degree in Landscape Architecture this summer while completing an internship at Rocky Mountain National Park. She is currently a lecturer at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning.