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The formative influences and expansive body of work of Richard Haag, FASLA, are on full display in the Cultural Landscape Foundation’s multipart oral history of Haag, and are an excellent accompaniment to Brice Maryman’s lively review of The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design by Thaïsa Way in the May issue (“Once and Always the Radical”). In this interview from 2004, Haag narrates from his beginnings at his father’s country nursery to his emergence as a landscape architect to become one of the most well-known names in the profession.

You can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

BY CAROL E. BECKER

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

Building the supply chain for native landscapes.

From the May 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The oak is our national tree for a reason. Oaks are endemic to our native landscapes in all regions of the United States, easily identified by their leaf shape and gnarly branches. The size of the mature white oak (Quercus alba), spreading up to 120 feet, is one reason we associate oaks with strength, along with the density of the wood and an oak fire’s burning hot and long in the woodstove. Native oaks fall into two taxonomic groups, white and red, and their landscape uses vary depending on soil moisture. But most important today, as Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, points out, oaks are the “quintessential wildlife plants.” They provide food to more than 500 species of caterpillars and other insects. In this fact lies the oaks’ value to the entire food chain, from the birds that eat insects to the humans who rest in the trees’ shade.

We need more oaks in our landscapes, mostly for the food benefits they provide. But instead of being sought-after plants, oaks are underused, undermarketed, undercultivated, and therefore in short supply. Landscape architects don’t often use them, clients don’t ask for them, and thus growers don’t grow them. A reverse scenario also holds true. Few nurseries grow Quercus species, particularly Q. macrocarpa, Q. muehlenbergii, and Q. alba, because they are hard to grow and suffer significant transplant death. So clients don’t see them and don’t ask for them and, in turn, landscape architects don’t specify them. Whatever the reason and wherever you start, it’s a circle of mutually reinforcing supply and demand.

The oaks are but one example of the larger problem for design professionals working to create sustainable landscapes with hardy plants in a given region. The interest in doing so—the imperative of doing so—is unequaled by the supply of appropriate species. This shortage also helps perpetuate clients’ expectations of plant specimens they do in fact see at the retail level, plants that are well-shaped, blooming, varied, and maybe even a bit exotic. The landscape architecture profession has taught them to value this aesthetic at least since the mid-19th century, when Andrew Jackson Downing codified ornamental landscaping in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. Now, we find ourselves in a world where, in just the past 40 years, half the songbird species in the United States and more than 90 percent of the monarch butterflies have disappeared. Honeybees and bumblebees have fallen to a mysterious virus, a cataclysmic problem that threatens the entire food chain. We do know how to reverse these trends and preserve biodiversity in landscapes, but we can’t get it done because clients still want constantly blooming and well-shaped plants with no bugs.

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BY ELIZABETH S. PADJEN

BEDIT_0431_Atmosphere

Mohsen Mostafavi, Francine Houben, and Craig Dykers discuss at the Keynote Panel moderated by Cathleen McGuigan.

In the opening scene of the first episode of Mr. Selfridge, an American businessman, Harry Selfridge, tries on a pair of kid gloves in a proper Edwardian department store. When he decides he wants to try something else, the clerk asks what he would like to see. “Well, maybe I don’t know until I see it,” he answers. “Why don’t we get a whole lot of them on the counter and then we can see what we like?” The clerk explains that’s not how things are done. “Come on,” he cajoles, “let’s have a little bit of fun”—and soon a drawerful of gloves is heaped on the counter.

Clients shopping for just the right design, civic-minded organizations browsing the marketplace of ideas—it’s sometimes hard to let go of the notion that design competitions are at their heart a retail experience. How can we know what we like until we see it? And shouldn’t we all have a little bit of fun while we’re trying to figure that out?

Exploring the ways that competitions can reach beyond mere consumerism was the focus of a recent conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on April 23 and 24, cosponsored by the Van Alen Institute and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The event, dubbed “The Design Competition Conference” (surely “a” would have been more accurate, given the inevitability of future similar symposia), coincided with the release of the findings of a design competition survey conducted by Van Alen and Architectural Record magazine.

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

One of the many plantings at Hummelo. Credit: Piet Oudolf.

One of the many plantings at Oudolf’s home near Hummelo, the Netherlands. Credit: Piet Oudolf.

From “The Oudolf Way” by Katarina Katsma, ASLA, in the May 2015 issue, featuring Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, written by Noel Kingsbury in commemoration of Oudolf’s 70th birthday.

“Everything that Oudolf creates is mesmerizing. His palette has incredible depth and texture.”

—Chris McGee, LAM Art Director

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

Washington Park, one of two sites being offered by the University of Chicago for the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum. Credit:

Washington Park, one of two sites being offered by the University of Chicago for the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum. Credit: Photo © Lucas Blair, courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

To the annals of things you thought might be sacred but actually aren’t sacred at all, you can now add 20 or so acres of a Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux park in Chicago that will be used to build the Obama presidential library. The Barack Obama Foundation, which had been considering four sites in Chicago, New York, and Hawaii, announced on May 12 that it had narrowed its choices down to a site in either Jackson Park or Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side. Neither the foundation nor the University of Chicago, which lured the library with the promise of using public parkland after a transfer engineered by Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, knows which Olmsted park they’ll decide on. But they seem sure that, despite dozens of empty acres owned by the city near each of the parks, only a park site will do.

When you consider who’s at work behind the idea, it seems inevitable that one of the Olmsted sites would be the choice. There’s Emanuel, who is a former chief of staff to President Obama and recently won re-election to a second term as mayor. There’s Susan Sher, a former chief of staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, who is now an adviser to the president of the University of Chicago, Robert Zimmer, and managed the library bid for the university. There are the commissioners of the Chicago Park District, appointed by Emanuel, who unanimously approved the transfer of the parkland to build the library (except for the president of the park district’s board, Bryan Traubert, who declined to vote because he is married to Obama’s secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker). And then there are the Illinois legislature and the governor, who, in light of potential legal threats to the library project, quickly approved a bill in April to preemptively block legal challenges to the taking of public parkland to build it.

I might have counted on the huge numbers of Olmsted fundamentalists and preservationists, so conspicuous on other occasions, to emerge in force against the library foundation’s plans. But other than substantive counterarguments made by a couple of advocacy groups—the Friends of the Parks in Chicago and the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington—any opposition to the idea of appropriating parkland for the library was muted to nonexistent, notably among landscape architects. A move to develop part of Central Park or Prospect Park, also by Olmsted and Vaux, in New York, would create something close to panic, as would, I suspect, designs on a Mies van der Rohe building or the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

It’s not possible to know whether there are more people who opposed Chicago’s offering of the park but kept quiet owing to fears of political retribution—no more municipal work for you, grouch—or because they didn’t think it is wrong, or because they thought fighting was futile. Not that one reason is more terribly disappointing than the others. This was a moment (and a long moment since word of the city’s plan came out late last year) to defend something that landscape architects and park advocates say they hold dear.

The ultimate responsibility lies with the president and First Lady themselves. When they announced the decision and ended the charade of keeping their distance from the site selection process, they cited, of course, their deep attachment to the South Side of Chicago. This part of the city makes perfect sense for the Obama library for many reasons. But if the Obamas are so rooted on the South Side, you’d think they wouldn’t be quite so indifferent to the gravity of developing part of its most important park, which, for reasons that don’t require much explanation, is, or was, indeed sacred.

 

JUST ADD NATURE

BY JANE ROY BROWN

How designers of Boston’s outdoor classrooms arrived at a “Kit of Parts” that really works.

How designers of Boston’s outdoor classrooms arrived at a “kit of parts” that really works.

From the May 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

 “Ms. Thompson, what’s a log?” The question came from a kindergartener in a Boston elementary school in 2006, after his teacher (not her real name) read a story to the class about a possum hiding in a hollow log.

As shocking as the question may sound, teachers all over the country have fielded similar ones for years. By 2005, when Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods launched the term “nature-deficit disorder” into everyday use, generations of kids in some city neighborhoods had had no experience of woods, never mind logs.

Last Child in the Woods has sent all kinds of communities scrambling to offer some experience of nature to their children, and many of them have focused, logically enough, on schoolyards. As more landscape architects join the push to transform crumbling asphalt schoolyards into landscapes for play and learning, they might do worse than to take a page from the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI).

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The things our art director, Chris McGee, hated to leave out of the current issue of LAM.

Extra from

Students create a mural of the Boston skyline. Credit: Boston Latin School.

From “Farm Factory” by Brian Barth, Affiliate ASLA, in the May 2015 issue, featuring a Freight Farm, a hydroponics system at the Boston Latin School.

 “I’m taken by that green color and the kids in the foreground applying the pattern to the skyline. Unfortunately this was an instance where there just wasn’t enough space to include the image.

—Chris McGee, LAM Art Director

As always, you can buy this issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine at more than 200 bookstores, including many university stores and independents, as well as at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy single digital issues for only $5.25 at Zinio or order single copies of the print issue from ASLA. Annual subscriptions for LAM are a thrifty $59 for print and $44.25 for digital. Our subscription page has more information on subscription options.

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