Archive for the ‘HISTORIC LANDSCAPES’ Category


Dan Kiley's South Garden at the Art Institute of Chicago has seasoned over nearly 50 years into a rugged, magical hawthorn canopy.

Dan Kiley’s South Garden at the Art Institute of Chicago has seasoned over nearly 50 years into a rugged, magical hawthorn canopy.

From the October 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

There is nothing quite like sitting beneath the almost fully connective canopy of 50-year-old cockspur hawthorns in Dan Kiley’s South Garden at the Art Institute of Chicago in early summer. The 32 trees at the center of the garden, set in a 20-foot grid, reached their natural maximum height long ago. Their wily trunks have thickened and twisted with age; their craggy, wandering branches continued to elongate, eventually overlapping and intertwining, creating a space that has a level of repose perhaps unequaled in a midcentury urban landscape space. Crataegus crus-galli has narrow, waxy, obovate leaves, which are naturally held upright at the tops of the branches, suggesting intolerance for shade; they filter a kaleidoscope of sunlight and shadow onto the warm brown crushed-stone paving below. Reflections from the water surface and gravel color the air. Though generally I find the modernist conceit of describing “rooms” in landscapes inadequate or ill-suited, this canopy explicitly creates a ceiling and produces a dazzling sense of interiority within the garden’s sunken court space. It’s hard to believe you are sitting within 150 feet of Chicago’s main drag.

Michigan Avenue, the historic eastern anchor of Chicago’s exalted grid, attracts hordes of traffic and tourists to its institutions, architectural sites, and parks. There are excellent urban landscapes to see here, including the Lurie Garden, Maggie Daley Park, Grant Park, and the grounds of the Field Museum. None is more tranquil than the South Garden. Peter Schaudt, one of Chicago’s most admired landscape architects, considered it Chicago’s best landscape space. This year, ASLA conferred its Landmark Award to the project, which recognizes works between 15 and 50 years old that retain their design integrity and benefit to the public realm. At about its 50-year mark, the South Garden more than (more…)

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Ireland's National Landscape Strategy makes clear the twining of land and national identity.

Ireland’s National Landscape Strategy makes clear the twining of land and national identity.

From the September 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

In May, Ireland unveiled a National Landscape Strategy (NLS), in an attempt to establish guidelines for the governance of the country’s historic geography while recognizing its inherent dynamism. Getting to grips with a nation’s landscape in such an ecumenical, broad-brushstrokes way is a tall order, even for a small island nation the size of Maine. Human settlement has left its mark on the Irish landscape for nearly 10,000 years. It’s an old place etched with memories, from the craggy coasts of Western Ireland to the karst of County Clare to the genteel Georgian terraces of Dublin.

These all now come under the protective purview of Ireland’s Department of Arts, Heritage, and Gaeltacht (the latter word referring to the Gaelic language). The agency has committed itself to a 10-year program to implement the NLS, with the completion of a comprehensive national Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) within five years. “It encompasses all landscapes—rural and urban, beautiful and degraded, ordinary and unique,” says Martin Colreavy, Ireland’s principal adviser on built heritage and architectural policy.

Ireland, of course, is a divided island, and the department’s remit extends to the boundaries of the Irish Republic—that is, the three historic southern provinces. The fourth province to the north—what we call Northern Ireland—remains part of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency has drawn up its own “Landscape Charter,” which will complement this one, reminding us that politics is often a land-based proposition.

If boundaries define landscapes, then landscapes define identity. As the NLS indicates, this is Ireland living up to its European obligations as (more…)

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July’s LAM looks at the long-needed rehabilitation of Babi Yar Park, a memorial ground in Denver dedicated to the lives lost in Kiev, Ukraine, during the Holocaust, by Tina Bishop of Mundus Bishop; a rethinking of Chavis Park in Raleigh, North Carolina, by Skeo Solutions, which embraces the park’s African American heritage through public engagement; and the ground-to-crown planting of the One Central Park high-rise in Sydney, designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, with Aspect | Oculus and Jeppe Aagaard Andersen, where sprawling green balconies make what is said to be the tallest vertical garden in the world.

In this month’s departments, the Milan Expo 2015 centered on food sustainability seems to draw controversy from every angle; Molly Meyer is leading the charge for affordable, simpler, and greater biodiversity in green roofs; and nature reclaims lands once lost from the demolition of two dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. In The Back, an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History immerses visitors in the beauty of Iceland through sight and sound. All this plus our regular Now, Species, Goods, and Books columns.

You can read the full table of contents for July 2015 or pick up a free digital issue of the July LAM here and share it with your clients, colleagues, and friends. 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.

Keep an eye out here on the blog, on the LAM Facebook page, and on our Twitter feed (@landarchmag), as we’ll be ungating July articles as the month rolls out.

Credits: “The Global Cucumber,” Tim Waterman; “Green Roof Gold,” Michael Skiba; “A River Returns,” National Park Service; “Star Witness,” © Scott Dressel-Martin; “The Chavis Conversion,” Skeo Solutions; “Live It Up,” Simon Wood Photography; “Songs of Ice and Fire,” Feo Pitcairn Fine Art.

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The Headland Park at Barangaroo Sydney, designed by PWP Landscape Architecture, is scheduled for its formal opening this summer. It is a total re-visioning of what was once a one-kilometer concrete slab described as the “third runway at Sydney airport” into an organic waterline reminiscent of its original form when Aboriginals inhabited the area. This nearly four-minute video, presented by Barangaroo Sydney, describes the multidisciplinary approach to the project and the separate components, from the sandstone hewn from the site to the native vegetation selection, that create a place unique to Sydney. Separately, an interview with Peter Walker in 2010 goes into detail on the design decisions for the iconic landscape, as well as what the design elements mean for Barangaroo and Sydney. For a more promotional video detailing the history of the site to the present, visit here.

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To revive downtown, the city appears poised to drive right through a masterpiece.

From the December 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

The city of Fresno sits in the middle of California’s San Joaquin Valley. When you drive into town from Los Angeles, the landscape is agricultural and framed by roadside eucalyptus trees. It gives way to off-ramp clusters of gas stations, fast-food chains, and light industrial warehouses. Most of Fresno’s neighborhoods, after nearly 50 years of decentralization and flight from the urban core, sprawl north, tracking the edge of the San Joaquin River. The city’s historic downtown and civic center are a near ghost town.

At the heart of downtown is the Fulton Mall. In the early part of the 20th century, it was Fresno’s main drag, Fulton Street, six blocks lined with banks and department stores. In 1964, the landscape architect Garrett Eckbo turned the street into a modernist pedestrian mall as part of a master plan for downtown Fresno by Victor Gruen Associates. Photographs of the period show a wide promenade full of people flanked by the awnings of existing buildings. Daffodils peek out of Eckbo’s sculptural planting beds, fountains gurgle, and a clock tower by Jan de Swart, an expressive interpretation of a historic form, unambiguously marks the mall as the new town square.

Today, the mall is the center of a fight over downtown Fresno’s redevelopment. The city government, with a $14 million federal transportation grant, supports plans to put a new complete street down the center of the mall. Preservationists plan to file a lawsuit to block the scheme. The rhetorical standoff between sides comes down to revive versus destroy, but the conditions on the ground tell a more complicated story about the role of design as a catalyst and a scapegoat in a changing urban landscape.


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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.

From the June 2015 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

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.

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Now viewed across the lawn and meadow, the houses evoke the settlement's rural character.

Now viewed across the lawn and meadow, the houses evoke the settlement’s rural character.

From the September 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Nearly 50 years ago, a cluster of old houses, set slightly askew, was “discovered” in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood. They had been surrounded and concealed by newer structures aligned to the modern street grid. These modest cottages were the last physical trace of Weeksville, a self-sufficient farming settlement founded by freed African Americans after slavery was outlawed in New York in 1827.

An organization soon coalesced to document the history and preserve the structures. These years later, the newly completed Weeksville Heritage Center has wider ambitions: both to celebrate the area’s black history and to foster its present-day cultural vitality. The historic houses have been restored and are joined by a dazzling new building with exhibition, performance, research, and classroom spaces. Between them is an outdoor area meant for active programming and historical interpretation. Elizabeth J. Kennedy, ASLA, the designer, says, “One challenge was to make the historic land use patterns apparent.” Another was to reveal the idiosyncratic route of long-erased Hunterfly Road, originally a Native American footpath, which the old houses had fronted.


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