Posts Tagged ‘soil’


The stone industry adopts a new sustainability standard.


In 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, Bill Browning, an environmental designer and founder of Terrapin Bright Green, cites “material connection with nature” as a significant principle. In other words, materials from nature, with minimal processing, can be used to construct the built environment—reflecting the local geology and connecting people to a place and natural setting. More than any other material, stone fulfills this “pattern”—often seamlessly settling a built landscape into the larger natural context. Yet in some cases, heavy stone can travel thousands of miles between harvest and use—offering absolutely no connection to the local natural landscape and creating a substantial environmental footprint.

Stone holds great potential to be a highly sustainable construction material for use in paving, stairs, and walls. It can be extremely durable, with relatively low embodied energy (energy used to produce a material), and nontoxic. However, a study from the University of Tennessee estimates that more than half of all dimension stone—defined as any stone that has been cut or shaped for use in construction—is imported, primarily from China, India, and Brazil, owing to far lower labor costs and fewer worker safety regulations, which combine for a lower product cost. Some of this stone might have been harvested in the United States, sent overseas for processing, then returned as “imported stone.” Minimal records of stone harvest, sales, and processing make it challenging to track stone’s path to market. Additionally, environmental impacts from waste and water use in stone quarrying and manufacture are not insignificant. Fortunately, a new standard from the Natural Stone Council (NSC) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) offers criteria for reducing the environmental impacts of stone harvest and processing and requires a chain of custody for stone so consumers can know for sure the path their “local” stone has traveled.

The stone quarrying process is often lumped together with metal mining’s heavy blasting and toxic runoff, but Kathy Spanier, the marketing director at Coldspring in Minnesota and a participant in the development of the new stone standard, emphasizes (more…)

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A retired cranberry bog inspires an innovative approach to wetland restoration.


In 2005, Glorianna Davenport began to think about retiring the cranberry farm she owned in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the late 1980s, the 600-acre farm was producing 1 percent of Ocean Spray’s cranberry harvest, but Davenport had become concerned about the amount of pesticides being used—and the way those pesticides were applied. “Because cranberries are grown on former wetlands, we had to farm with helicopters,” Davenport says. “And spraying chemicals from helicopters is not really great in a densely populated area.” Davenport, a visiting scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory, whose husband bought the cranberry farm in the early 1980s, could also see the handwriting on the wall for older cranberry farms, with new cultivars producing five times as many berries, farmed in places easier to access than wetlands and river bottoms. “The industry was changing pretty radically,” Davenport says. “The way we had been farming was really the legacy of another era.”

Davenport learned that a nearby cranberry farm had been restored back to wetlands—said to be the first project of its kind in the United States—and that she was eligible for assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program, which pays farmers to take land out of production to preserve, restore, and enhance wetlands on their properties. The program was established by the 1990 Farm Bill. In 2008, Davenport decided to retire from MIT to undertake the restoration of Tidmarsh Farms. With federal and state funding in hand, she began working with the state’s Department of Fish and Game to pull together an interdisciplinary team of state and federal scientists and river, wetland, and other experts to help restore the bog at Tidmarsh Farms, an effort that took several years.

Ten thousand years ago, glaciers moved down across the northeastern United States, then retreated. As they did, big chunks of ice were left, forming (more…)

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Pavement and planting beds can play nicely—but it takes thought.


It is a classic landscape architecture problem: placing pavements next to lawn or planting bed areas. The commonplace nature of this situation belies its complexity, an adjacency that represents an interface between two systems with antithetical requirements. In this case, the edge between pavement and planting bed is an area where an engineered structural system abuts a living horticultural system. Successful design solutions frequently require landscape architects to reconcile competing interests, but it is not always easy, given the demands of a project. In SiteWorks’s practice, we see the pavement–planting edge as a challenge for both designers and contractors alike. The edge merits special attention with regard to how we design and document the condition, how it’s built, and how its thoughtful assembly can benefit long-term performance.

The Basics
Let’s start with what a successful pavement system needs. The structural support of a pavement relies on (more…)

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Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, compiled in 1979 and printed in 1982. Image courtesy of John Davies and Alexander Kent, The Red Atlas.

A map of Vilnius, Lithuania, produced in Russia at the tail end of the Soviet era, details the speed of the Neris River’s flow (1.8 miles per hour), its depth and width, and that it had a sandy riverbed. In addition, it reveals the dimensions of a nearby bridge, what it’s made of (concrete), and how much it can carry (55 tons). Across the Cold War divide, on Western shores, Soviet cartographers still had a grasp of some of the minutiae that made up its sworn rival’s infrastructure. A 1980 map of San Francisco points out that the Oakland Bay Bridge is constructed of metal and rises between 171 and 213 feet above the water. One of perhaps a million maps made by the Soviets to secretly and conclusively chart the surface of the earth, it’s a relic from what might be the largest and most ambitious cartography effort in history.

Though much of this story’s origins and methods are shrouded in secrecy, British authors and map enthusiasts John Davies and Alexander Kent have found a way to break open these mysteries with a beautiful and brief cartographic volume. Their book, The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World (University of Chicago Press, 2017), focuses on how these maps (more…)

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Working in a multidisciplinary firm means every day is different.


You certainly never get bored in a multidisciplinary office. A landscape architect might find herself reviewing federal endangered species listings, hydrology maps, or legal frameworks for land use planning in the daily shuffle, and these are just some of the diverse types of work likely to be present. Industrial mining methods, vernal pool construction, and high-rise plumbing systems could also come into play. The number of landscape architects working in these professional environments is growing as businesses find a competitive edge providing full, in-house services for site development projects that require expertise from designers but also from scientists, legal teams, and engineers. Four landscape architects at the center of these integrated office types share insights about collaboration, isolation, and the willingness to learn something new each day.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

Weston & Sampson, Boston

Gene Bolinger, ASLA, Vice President

What are lessons learned from working in a multidisciplinary office for more than 25 years?

Staff at Weston & Sampson (clockwise from left): Elise Bluell, Associate ASLA; Cassidy Chroust, ASLA; Desmond Fang; Brandon Kunkel; and Farah Dakkak, Associate ASLA. Image courtesy of Weston & Sampson.

I came to Weston & Sampson through an acquisition, and I’ve been here since the fall of 1991. Weston & Sampson is an environmental and infrastructure engineering firm, and it’s one of those old, legacy northeastern firms. It’s been around since 1899. One of our larger clients is the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and at any given time, we have  eight to 10 projects under way with the City of Boston. We’re pushing up against 500 people in our organization and, again, we’re mostly in the Northeast, with the largest projects in Massachusetts, for sure. Just recently the firm went to a discipline-based structure—we’re actually six disciplines. One of the disciplines is the design discipline, and I manage the design discipline. I’ve become accustomed to working within a multidisciplinary realm, and I celebrate what’s great about it and try to take advantage of what’s great about it.

If you’re sitting back on your hands and you’re assuming that people are going to be delivering exactly what you want at the exact moment you want it, you’re so mistaken. So, that’s why you can’t let things (more…)

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April is, of course, World Landscape Architecture Month. This year, to mark the occasion, LAM is issuing a special supplement for young readers, called YOUR LAND. It offers a basic introduction to landscape and landscape architecture, a look at the methods and goals of the profession, a breakout of several intriguing types of projects, a career primer, and, not least, a glossary of landscape architecture terms! Our goal is plain: to encourage the making of more future landscape architects. For many people, landscape architecture is a second career choice after they have made their first, and one they like better—it’s mainly a matter of exposure to the wide range of things landscape architects do in their work. We figure sooner is better, so this supplement is free and available digitally for downloading. For limited quantities of bulk print copies for classrooms or other groups, e-mail discover@asla.org (shipping charges apply).

Our regular April issue is every bit as exciting, covering a range of bold work that is reshaping landscape architecture today. In the cover feature, Michael Dumiak reports on an audacious plan by H+N+S Landscape Architects in the Netherlands, led by Dirk Sijmons, to power the countries around the North Sea with wind energy by the year 2050. It’s a multinational endeavor that transcends bureaucracies as well as boundaries in hopes of making these countries fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which took effect last year, of holding the average global temperature to within 1.5 degrees Celsius of preindustrial levels by reducing emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases.

Back in North America, Jack Dangermond and his company, Esri, have done as much or more than anyone since the onset of the digital age to help decode the Earth’s landscape with the computational tools known as geographic information systems, or GIS. At this stage of his career, as Jonathan Lerner profiles, Dangermond is putting that might behind his Green Infrastructure Initiative, the goal of which is “to identify and secure the critical remaining large cores of relatively unspoiled landscape” on a national scale. It is a galactic attempt to counter (more…)

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Mapping the historic dunes hidden beneath the surface of Chicago.


A few years ago, Mary Pat McGuire, ASLA, became fascinated by the South Side of Chicago—or rather, with what was beneath it. She was flying back to the East Coast often, leaving from Midway Airport, and she started to notice “really interesting patterns along the coastline that looked like stripes, ridges along the shore. They were some kind of remnant,” she says, describing the landscape south of the city. “I just started to wonder, ‘What’s really going on here? What was this place?’”

McGuire, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was already familiar with the South Side’s more recent history of white flight, shuttered industry, and disinvestment. Now, she became interested in the area’s geologic history, and how it might be put to work. The landforms she spied from the air prompted McGuire to look at early soil maps made by the U.S. Geological Survey. What she found were (more…)

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