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Is Landscape Architecture the Lowest Common Denominator?

Is landscape architecture’s greatest challenge also its greatest weakness? In the design and development of our exterior spaces, landscape architects face a daunting challenge: they have to “please” everyone. Their work may not always be relegated to the private confines of individual taste, instead their work is at the mercy of all who walk, bike or drive by and experience their creations. In an effort to keep the masses “happy,” are landscape architect’s instead pushed to deliver products that ultimately serve the lowest common denominator? By doing so, are landscape architect’s contributing to or detracting from the profession itself?

March 12th, 2009 | Comments Off on Is Landscape Architecture the Lowest Common Denominator?

Going Against the Grain and Overcoming Fear

against-the-grain

Fear should be reserved for dark alleys and late nights at public beaches. In those instances, fear proves valuable as a defense mechanism. In the case of design and planning, fear only serves as an enabler of mediocrity.

To find success and innovation in design, the surefire way is to go against the grain. There is no opportunity for progress by continuing along the safe and familiar path.  It’s time to demand more from our design professionals.

Looking back at the example of  fear as a defense mechanism, it is important to note that “common sense” would also warn you to keep your guard up in those situations. So, where did all this common sense come from and how did it get here? Was it repeated instances of fear that shaped a common sense and mass public opinion? Or did mass public opinion become a creator of fear? Today’s climate is most often influenced by the latter. In which case, design professionals have a lot more work ahead of them!  Design decisions are not only a  matter of physical design standards but even more challenging, they are a matter of cultural perception.

Are landscape architects prepared to serve as agents of cultural change?

March 1st, 2009 | Comments (1)

Can you feel it?

How do you know when a landscape installation reaches the level of “lasting importance?” The answer is: when you can feel it. When the curve of the pavement or rustle of rhythmic leaves evoke a sensory response, then you know you are in the presence of something great.

My favorite places become embedded in my memory because of their power to “move” me. My most memorable example was made clear during my visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. and the alarming sense of nearly being forced to my knees. While traveling down the granite pavers, deeper into the earth, the polished monument wall grew progressively taller in
size. This simple, yet meaningful change plunged at my chest with great power. At the start of my journey, the wall was merely a slight curb-like projection above grade. By the midway point, the granite wall towered over me. I felt this experience provided a subtle and effective manipulation of the human-scale. It lured me in as a simple curb, then swallowed me whole with its mass. But of course, this entire experience of space was controlled by where I stood and how fast I traveled along the path. As added impact and the true purpose of the monument, thousands of names of the deceased were carved into wall. A record of human lives lost.

A notable fact about this memory is that it does not represent the work of a landscape architect. Thus, I must dig deeper to reveal the distinguishable characteristics of “lasting importance” which remain unique to Landscape Architecture.

February 24th, 2009 | Comments (1)

Where do we go from here?

where do we go from here?

The economy has come to a screeching halt.  Landscape architects are losing their jobs across the country. Fear of an unknown future has put a freeze on spending and investments.  Gone are the land development projects which call for endless simulacrums of an American dream. Gone are the neighborhood challenges for the greenest, lushest lawns on the block. Where do landscape architects go from here?

Do we carelessly pursue every conceivable ounce of work, large and small? Do we continue down paths of consistent mediocrity? Or do we deliberately position ourselves to fulfill a future with the transcending power this profession is known for?

With the world damaged by war and financial disarray, now is the time to clearly define the role of the landscape architect. The people are demanding more. They are calling for sustainable, regenerative designs and more importantly, environments with lasting importance. Now is the time for landscape architects to meet that challenge.

January 25th, 2009 | Comments Off on Where do we go from here?

Landscape Starchitect- Friend or Foe?

I was very intrigued by a decision to reduce the coverage of a few stars in Landscape Architecture. I can sympathize with the idea that the same “star landscape architects” might become boring or even overrated after too much exposure. But at the same time, I want to know who the stars of our profession are. I want to know who represents the best of what landscape architecture has to offer. More importantly, I want the whole world to know.

In daily conversations, in my professional and personal life, landscape architects are forced to defend their identity and purpose. I think the promotion of a few stars could help pave that road.

Do you have an active, living landscape architect who you consider to be a role model for the profession? If so, how can we empower that individual(s) to further inspire the rest of us? On the Land8Lounge discussion board, “WHO ARE WE? SHOULD OUR TITLE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT BE CHANGED TO SOMETHING ELSE?” received over 60 thoughtful and passionate responses from around the world. It leads me to believe that landscape architects, students, designers, clients, agency officials and project users are all looking for someone to lead the way.

January 23rd, 2009 | Comments (1)

I Need Landscape


Labor day weekend in 2001 did not only mark the end of summer, it also marked the beginning of the end of innocence. On September 1, 2001, I was physically assaulted six blocks from the home I grew up in. Just ten days later, the 9/11 attacks took the lives of thousands and brought the threat of fear in all Americans. If that was not enough, on November 17, 2001, my 15-year old sister was murdered after trying to defend someone else. She was fatally stabbed by a 17-year old girl and beaten by two others, in front of a group of teenagers chanting “fight, fight, fight!” In the span of a few short months, I experienced fear on every imaginable level. The world was crashing in on me and I was no longer living. I was living in fear.

The great tragedy was that each event was completely preventable. Each event was caused by a human being inflicting violence and fear on another human being. How is that possible? What causes people to act with such hate and disgust? What world did they grow up in, to think such actions were without consequences? What environmental factors contributed to and reinforced this behavior? Finally, what can be done to change it?

These events are what inspired me to create change in this world. These events inspired me to become a landscape architect. As a landscape architect I can shape the garden, the street, the neighborhood and the communities that people live in. At every scale, I have a chance to make a difference in people’s lives. The very definition of a landscape architect is to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public. It is my job to care about how people live. It is my job to care about the immediate and long term sustainability of life on earth. But I can’t do it alone.

June 12th, 2008 | Comments Off on I Need Landscape