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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY JENNIFER REUT

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

There are a lot of different kinds of roads in Texas. There are state and federal highways that pull truckers through long stretches of the state from one town to another. They tangle up briefly in urban and suburban streets before heading west. There are farm-to-market roads and ranch-to-market roads, so named because they connect rural people to towns where they sell their products, find education, and maybe find jobs. Roads in Texas, especially in sparsely populated areas of the state, were more than a way to get from point A to point B. They brought progress, change, newcomers, but also a way for people to leave for good. Texas was slow to adopt paved roads, and many of the farm- and ranch-to-market roads weren’t paved until after World War II. Today these roads make up just over half of the 80,444 miles of roads managed by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

In Texas, US 67 is a highway that runs from Texarkana to the border with Mexico at Presidio. It passes through Dallas and San Angelo, intermingling with other, bigger federal highways along the way, and finally gets loose on its own around Fort Stockton (population 8,356). From there it’s a sometimes rolling, sometimes clear shot through Alpine (pop. 6,065) and Marfa (pop. 1,772) to Presidio (pop. 4,099) and the border with Mexico.

For much of the ride, especially south of Marfa, US 67 is a two-lane road with narrow shoulders, hemmed in by ranchlands or rocky buttes on each side. Ranch roads peel off occasionally but not often, so there’s no predictable place to pull over and turn around. Once you’re on, you’re on.

Fortunately, it’s a jaw-droppingly beautiful drive through the northeast corner of the Chihuahuan Desert, (more…)

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BY TIMOTHY A. SCHULER

Landscape architects can do more than talk about diversity—they can act.

FROM THE MAY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

The high school students were pretending to be plants. They crouched in front of giant, wall-sized pieces of parachute cloth, china markers in hand, and slowly grew, black lines following suit. Recalling the movement of the prairie grasses just outside, they waved and swayed and curled in on themselves, a collective interpretive dance that evoked the native grasses and wildflowers that they had been studying all morning. Quickly a mass of black lines became a monochromatic prairie, a temporary mural inspired by the small patch of native grassland visible from the hallway window.

Leading the drawing exercise was Erin Wiersma, an artist and associate professor in the art department at Kansas State University. Wiersma is best known for her massive biochar “drawings,” which she makes by dragging huge sheets of paper across freshly burned prairie. The exercise at J.C. Harmon High School, located in the largely Hispanic Kansas City, Kansas, neighborhood of Argentine, was part of Grassland Interview, an interdisciplinary art and ethnography project created in collaboration with the landscape architect Katie Kingery-Page, ASLA, the associate dean of Kansas State’s College of Architecture, Planning, and Design. (more…)

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AMAZON FIRE: WHO OWNS THE AMAZON?

As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY CATHERINE SEAVITT NORDENSON, ASLA

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Who owns the Amazon? In news reports about the unprecedented number of fires burning in this vast forest during the past several months, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has vehemently answered “Brazil”—punctuating that claim with the charge that any nation holding a different opinion is simply a colonizer, usually a European one. Yet defined in terms of the river’s massive watershed, the Amazon rain forest—the world’s largest such tropical biome—falls within eight South American countries: Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Guyana.

Those same eight polities have been embroiled in a seven-year legal battle with Amazon.com, Inc. and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, who would very much like to own .amazon—the domain name, that is. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—the independent body that vets global Internet addresses—has sided with Bezos. American corporate interests, once again, seem to have the upper hand over local cultural heritage and place-name identity, despite concerns voiced by Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs and representatives from other governments that share the watershed.

Certainly, “owning” the Amazon has always been bound up in questions of sovereignty. And sovereignty has long been caught up in authoritative claims of possession. (more…)

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BY JONATHAN LERNER / PHOTOGRAPHY BY JIM WESTPHALEN

Wagner Hodgson’s assignment for a lakeside estate in Vermont required subtle deletions, essential corrections, and thematic consistency.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

The property is a stubby peninsula jutting west into Lake Champlain. The lake is nearly two miles wide here. Beyond it, in New York, the tiered peaks of the Adirondacks appear flattened and monochromatic, blurring as they recede into the distance. Given the setting, the place seems even more expansive than its 140 acres. But the grandeur is counterbalanced by the land’s gentleness—it has the unassertive quality characteristic of Vermont’s culture, if not of the state’s more typical mountainous terrain. From a country road, you turn onto a half-mile-long drive. The approach runs between meadows, where sheep from an adjacent farm are grazed, before entering a wood and then curving toward the house. From here, 30 feet below through the filter of trees, the lake gleams slate blue.

Bays scoop out the north and south shores of the peninsula, shaping it like an anvil; the west shore runs for 2,000-plus feet along the lake proper. The main house sits in neat, tree-dotted lawns near the anvil’s southern point. It’s grand in scale, and traditional though restrained in style. There’s a pool and pool house, and a carriage house that doubles as entertaining space. Both are well spaced from the house and each other and visually buffered, at least in summer, by planting areas: There’s a curve of river birches undergirded by Limelight hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’), Astilbe, and a mix of sage and grass varieties, and separately, a little grid of honey locusts. Farther away, past an intervening sweep of woods, a guesthouse overlooks the south bay. A quarter mile from that, above the north bay, sits a smaller second guesthouse. Near that structure, but also shielded by trees, there’s a reconstructed antique barn. Aside from a short steep drop down to the lake all around, the land has only soft contours. As a whole, of course, this estate is plenty splendid. But its buildings are scattered, and unostentatious. Sight lines are veiled by the skeins of trees. There is no hill to provide a commanding view of the place all at once. When you’re there, it feels understated and quiet.

The Burlington, Vermont, firm Wagner Hodgson was hired in 2014 to create a coherent master plan that would transform the abandoned farm property into a working estate. That required addressing woodland management, shoreline protection, field restoration for sheep husbandry, management of agricultural runoff, siting of outbuildings, and establishment of outdoor living spaces for the client family. The property had been neglected. Some fields had been in agricultural use, but wooded areas including the lakefront bluffs had become overgrown and thick with invasives. “Before, all the way up to the house, you couldn’t even tell there was a lake here,” says H. Keith Wagner, FASLA, who was the principal in charge on the project. “You couldn’t see the house either,” until you’d come right up to it. A big part of the job came down to editing. Wagner says, “It wasn’t only what you added; it was what you subtracted.” Thinning of trees along the bluff now allows views to the water as you get close. And selective removal neatly “opened up a shot,” as Wagner puts it, between remaining trees, to provide a 400-foot head-on prospect from the curve of the driveway right to the front of the house. You glimpse the building for a moment—it’s a stately one, well served by that long view—before passing back among trees that intermittently screen it, and finally arriving at the door.

Editing, of course, involves not only deletion but also elaboration and punctuation. (more…)

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LETHAL GLASS LANDSCAPES

BY JEFF LINK

A proposed building and landscape ordinance could shape the future of bird-friendly design in Chicago.

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

On a mild Friday in early May, Ted Wolff took a personal day and drove to the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, Illinois, to catch a glimpse of Lewis’s woodpecker, a nearly foot-long, pink- and white-breasted bird native to the western United States. Along with two other Chicago birders, Wolff, the garrulous, white-bearded principal of Wolff Landscape Architecture, was on a “twitch,” an English expression for pursuing a bird in a geographic area where it is rarely seen.

Early that morning, an Illinois Rare Bird Alert reported that the woodpecker—named after the explorer Meriwether Lewis, who first saw the bird on his expedition with William Clark—had been seen at the nature center. It was reason enough for Wolff to clear his docket. Before long, the three birders were driving south to be among the first people to see the bird in Illinois, outside its historic range.

When they entered the nature center’s indoor viewing area, the woodpecker was already perched on a platform feeder—a “walk-up,” in birder’s parlance—eating shelled peanuts in front of a one-way reflective plate glass window. They watched it peck at the platform for several minutes, then fly to a hackberry with a peanut wedged in its bill, pausing before circling back to the feeder.

“At some point, though,” Wolff told me later in his office on the sixth floor of the Old Republic Building on North Michigan Avenue, “it flies over toward the feeder and overshoots and flies into the window. I think it sees its own reflection and it sort of pulls up and touches the window lightly and is able to fly off.”

Many birds are not so lucky. Ornithologists estimate that up to a billion birds, often migratory birds listed as species of conservation concern, die in building collisions in the United States annually—collisions that Wolff says are largely preventable, and deaths that warrant a stronger response from landscape architects as advocates for bird-friendly design. (more…)

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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY JESSICA BRIDGER

FROM THE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

It is likely you have never heard of Paul Mathews, but if you ski it is probable that you have been on a slope that he had a hand in designing. In 1975, he founded Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, “Ecosign” being a portmanteau of ecology and design. Whistler, the downhill and backcountry ski hub in British Columbia, has been his home turf since the 1970s, and Ecosign has worked on more than 400 ski resorts around the world.

Mathews was responding to the state of skiing in the 1970s when he founded Ecosign. Ski areas had evolved over the years, some growing from ad hoc paths down the sides of mountains into massive areas, choked by car traffic on the weekends, full of stairs and narrow, poorly designed ski slopes, or pistes, with disorganized ski villages at their base. Infrastructure was insufficient; environmental degradation was rife. Some resorts were made by tearing into the landscape, moving large amounts of rock and soil, cutting excessive numbers of trees, ignoring flora and fauna. Few undertook adequate transportation planning to handle weekly visitor flows. Other ski areas suffered from fragmented ownership, with multiple operators in single small town or village settings, hampering the investment needed to keep facilities modern and ensure longevity and employment. Four decades after founding Ecosign, Mathews knows what to do with both challenges—how to plan for sustainable futures and growth and how to establish completely new ski resorts in places that have none. The company is about 20 people and includes landscape architects, architects, engineers, soil scientists, and MBAs, among others, who work around the world from Ecosign’s base at Whistler. “There is lot of work in China, the Balkans, Turkey—anywhere where they have mountains, snow, and incomes that are rising,” Mathews says. (more…)

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BY BRIAN BARTH

A flood-friendly park re-creates a resilient landscape in Calgary’s Bow River.

FROM THE JANUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In the summer of 2013, catastrophic flooding in southern Alberta killed five people and forced 100,000 to evacuate. With $6 billion in property damage, it was one of the costliest natural disasters in Canadian history. The swollen Bow River, which flows from glacial headwaters in the Rockies to Calgary, left much of the city’s urban core underwater. The inundated area included St. Patrick’s Island, one of several islands in the downtown stretch of the river, where Barbara Wilks, FASLA, and Mark Johnson, FASLA, had just kicked off construction on a new 31-acre park. A new pedestrian bridge to the island, which was partially built at the time, suffered significant damage. But for the park itself, Wilks and Johnson—the founders of W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Civitas, respectively—say the floodwaters provided positive reinforcement of their design.

This was not the initial reaction, however, of the folks at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), their client.

“Our client called and said, ‘Oh, God, you have to get up here; we’re going to have to change the design,’” said Johnson as he, Wilks, and I strolled across the bridge to the completed park on a clear spring day.

“The whole island flooded!’” Wilks recalled members of the CMLC team saying in an urgent and distressed call. “We said, ‘It’s going to be fine; there’s nothing to change. We designed it to flood—this is what’s supposed to happen.’” (more…)

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