[Originally published 2nd quarter 2008, in arcCA 08.2, “Landscape + Architecture.”]
Office of Cheryl Barton, Landscape Stratigraphy.
arcCA asked a dozen and a half prominent California landscape architects two questions:
1. What is one thing you would like architects to know that would facilitate the relationship between the two professions? (Please don’t say, “Be sure to get the landscape architect on board from the beginning of the project.” That one will find its way into the magazine elsewhere.) Your answer needn’t be the most important thing architects should know, although it could be. But it could also be some usefully quirky thing.
2. What do you consider the two or three most important questions or ideas or concerns motivating landscape architecture today?
Here are their responses.
Office of Cheryl Barton, Corporate Headquarters, San Francisco, with Robert A.M. Stern and Gensler, photo by Cheryl Barton.
Cheryl Barton, FASLA, FAAR
Office of Cheryl Barton
Landscape is a noun, not a verb; it does not end in “-ing.”
Landscape is not “parsley ‘round the pig,” as the Brits would say. It is the foundation for the built environment, not an appliqué after a building is conceived and constructed.
Landscape occupies that critical juncture between nature and culture. It is a potent and symbolic medium that can transform ideas and attitudes as well as place.
A site is not a tabula rasa; sites are deeply layered with a cultural and natural landscape stratigraphy that informs the design narrative. Landscapes encode multiple ideas in many planes occupying the same spacetime.
Pamela Burton & Co., Carbon Beach House, with Richard Meier & Partners, photo by Bruce Botnick.
Pamela Burton, FASLA
Pamela Burton & Company
Architects work in the vertical realm at a macro scale; for them, the elevation of a building twenty feet tall isn’t large enough. Landscape architects work in the horizontal realm at a micro scale; for them, a twenty-inch grade change is a lot.
At the conception of the design process, it is crucial for the architect and landscape architect to understand and agree conceptually on the design approach. Good architects care about how their buildings are integrated into the landscape, and it is beneficial to all when architects and landscape architects understand that they are a convergence of the same process. We always think of the phrase from the musical Oklahoma, “Oh, the farmer (landscape architect) and the cowboy (architect) should be friends!”
Landscape architects must go beyond the pragmatic function of anchoring buildings to a site to enliven the sensory perceptions of people visiting the building. It is our role to challenge how one perceives exterior space by conceptually defining how people see and move through a landscape. Landscape has the possibility of charging all of our senses and evoking memories and emotional responses. Landscape is about a sense of personal wellbeing, a sense of beauty, and a sense of pleasure. Landscape is about making people feel comfortable in spaces with their families, with their friends, and with themselves.
Sustainability should not be promoted at the expense of great design; they can and should be compatible. The success and value of spaces are not always seen immediately; they are felt. In order to make a space resonant, proportions of spaces and the shadows defining edges are as important as how a space is used.
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, Walden Studios, Alexander Valley,
with Jensen & Macy Architects, photo by Marion Brenner.
Andrea Cochran, FASLA
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture
Landscape architects almost always understand grading—particularly site grading—better than architects. Many architects do not believe this.
Plants need dirt and water to grow, and it is very hard to make a vertical green wall. Plants are living and cannot be used in the same manner as architectural building materials.
It is helpful to explain at the onset of the project the basic tenets of the design for the building. Certain relationships are important to identify to the landscape architect, so that connections between interior and exterior spaces are appropriately addressed in the landscape design. What relationships are important to enhance or separate? What is the circulation
concept for the site? Provide locations for all building openings. Explain the materials envisioned for the building.
Architects forget they have “lived” with the building for a long time, and some buildings are difficult to understand through plans and elevations. Computer or real models are a help.
Finally, it is important to keep the landscape architect apprised of changes in the building design and the work of other consultants. Sometimes junior staff members forget to provide timely updates.
The most important concerns today are water conservation and using sustainable materials.
Comstock Studio and Robert Irwin, Palm installation, LA County Museum of Art, photo by Alfonso E. Perez-Gonzalez, licensed under CC-BY-2.0.
Paul Comstock, ASLA, Vice President and Managing Principal
ValleyCrest Design Group/Comstock Studio
Oh! How fun! “What architects should know” is a favorite topic among my colleagues across the globe. First off, it’s a symbiotic relationship. Landscape architects must be willing
to learn about the whole architectural process, and architects to further understand the “World of Natural Changes.” A successful relationship depends on participation in and knowledge of each project phase: from the chrysalis concept through construction, and metamorphosis into delivered landscape.
Second, dealing with growing, vibrant but perishable, organisms means that we work with life cycles that can operate independently of construction spreadsheets and critical path timelines. As landscape architects, we create environmental expressions requiring sun, moon, seasonal, and climatic cycles based in universal time. As partners to Mother Nature, we think differently about project time.
A fantastic teacher of mine, architect Francisco Behr, AIA, said simply, “Try thinking of it (the design solution) in different ways.” And the “it” is this: there is really one important concern: the classic Ethos vs. Epistemology Drama, starring Sustainability. Most designers seek a balance between being green and making the project happen without compromising the soul of the design. But, to do that, we need to re-baseline our aesthetic and create new norms to build a better, more brilliant tomorrow.
CMG, Mint Plaza, San Francisco, photo by Sharon Risedorph.
Kevin Conger, ASLA
CMG Landscape Architecture
Consider the landscape as a performance based, functioning system, and strive to get maximum value from the entire landscape. Like the building, performance drives much of the decisions in a successful landscape and should take priority over consideration of style or aesthetics or preconceptions about soft or hard materials. Performance should also drive budget decisions regarding the landscape.
Landscape Urbanism: How do we make constructed environments that are dynamic, sustainable, functional, durable, inspirational, beautiful, social, and which embody ideas like democracy? Part of the solution to this is to move beyond design of the formal landscape and into issues of systems design, policy, politics, economics, etc…
T. Delaney, Inc.—Seam Studio, “Garden Play,” Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma, photo by Lucas Fladzinski.
T. Delaney, Inc.—Seam Studio
One word: Threshold.
Physical, as well as in terms of expectations. The Alhambra, Palladian villas, the Salk Institute, all are connected to the landscape, descending or ascending. Where is the envelope? Before you stamp it, where is it?
I’m not a supporter of the demarcation of professional boundaries. Architects should do landscape architecture and vice versa. You should really know the whole thing—how the envelope goes together.
Extend beyond the limit of the threshold. Whether in your own right, in your own studio, or joining in with landscape architects, gardeners, civil engineers, architects should address that extension.
Nancy Goslee-Power & Associates, Beverly Hills Residence, photo by Marcia Lee.
Nancy Power with Joanna Hankamer, Senior Associate
Nancy Goslee-Power & Associates
Landscape architects are designers, not “landscapers.”
[JH] Landscape design has an inherent logic that is fundamentally different from that of architecture. Many architects want to architecturalize landscapes and gardens. I would advise architects to respect and trust that successful landscape and garden design comes from a different sensibility, training, and lineage, and that landscape and garden design is space design in a different realm from theirs, with some different rules. Architects could better their collaborations by trusting landscape designers to collaborate on the design of the whole outdoor environment. Landscape designers are often asked to “green it up” or “specify the plants,” which is like asking an architect to specify the materials for a building that will be designed by others. The materials of our discipline—plants, stone, water, dirt, wood, steel, concrete—are specified during the process of space design, according to rules of form, texture, light, color, movement, climate, growth, and entropy and within an understanding of human physical, sensual, and spiritual interaction with those materials.
[NP] This quotation from Thomas Jefferson says exactly what I believe and feel: “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” Nothing makes me happier than when I see all sorts of people so happy to be in gardens that I have designed. I design with their comfort and joy at the top of my list; I do not design just to make an artistic statement. The garden is the mezzanine between heaven and earth. It can be a spiritual and healing place, and our society is desperate for good habitable spaces. My life-long goal is to build as many as I possibly can, including the greening of public elementary schools and introducing the joy of growing your own food and flowers to children. It is no surprise that Paradise in all religions is always described as a garden.
The most important concerns motivating landscape architecture today are:
1. Nature deprivation in our culture, specifically urban and suburban culture.
2. To educate developers on the importance of landscape in our environments.
3. Our discipline’s role in sustainability and contemporary environmentalism.
4. To influence the multi-disciplinary conversations about green urbanism, green infrastructure, and landscape urbanism.
5. To correct architects’ perceptions of our field so that we can better influence our built environments.
Fritz Haeg, Edible Estates Regional Prototype Garden #4: London, 2007, commissioned by Tate
Modern, photo by Heiko Prigge.
I am actually not a landscape architect; my background is in architecture, but most current projects are commissioned by art museums.) Architects by nature tend to be focused on buildings. This may seem obvious and simplistic, but I do not think it necessarily has to be this way. I imagine a future system of architecture education that views a building as one of many possible responses to a design challenge/problem. I like the idea of an architecture of removal, in which we become more strategic about removing structures and considering how little building we actually need to thrive as humans. In a system like this, landscape becomes the privileged form of human development, not buildings.
How can we develop open urban spaces that are more than just high maintenance, ornamental, vanity landscapes? What functions can we assign our open spaces that might also have pleasurable aspects, such as food producing urban farms and dirt cleansing phytoremediation gardens?
EDAW, Tokyo Midtown © EDAW 2008, photo by David Lloyd.
Steve Hanson, ASLA
Well, my flippant answer would be that the world isn’t flat—but of course there are many architects with a great sensitivity to site and grading—and even some landscape architects without it. But, really, from the perspective of buildings, I wish more architects understood the power of landscape to make buildings better. And often it comes back to grading. A recent example is with an urban project that is meant to define a central open space, yet the building elevations have already been set. That can be very limiting.
This will sound very old fashioned, but I think it’s very important to have a big idea, and I mean a design idea—an idea that conveys meaning, sense of place, culture, whatever. This is more important than ever in the current professional climate (pardon the pun) where so many of the metrics for success are based on non-design criteria. Sustainability is essential, but it isn’t a design idea or a replacement for one.
ah’bé, Southpark Streetscape, Los Angeles, photo by Jack Coyier.
Calvin Abe, FASLA
ah’bé::landscape architects | environmental planners
I would like architects to know that “the grass is greener” on this side and that all architects are welcome to practice within the context of our profession. Our profession is about engaging society and healing the planet, so there is a lot of work to be done. We need more talented people using landscape as their medium of expression.
I like to think of our practice as designing and developing “green infrastructure” for the planet. As landscape architects, we are now engaged in the regeneration of the damaged industrial landscape. We are not returning this land to uninterrupted nature, but we are healing and transforming it into a more socially balanced and environmentally sustainable system. Our profession has entered a phase in which we are designing for urban recovery.
How can landscape architects elevate the public’s understanding of how we are generating solutions to environmental issues through our work?
Sasaki Associates, Inc., UC Davis Segundo Commons, photo by Tim Rue.
Jim Jacobs, ASLA,Principal Landscape Architect
Sasaki Associates, Inc.
The biggest challenge is getting architects to truly understand the value that landscape architects bring to a team and the full breadth of scope a landscape architect can offer above just documenting plant material. Landscape architects are formally trained, licensed professionals with specific skill at understanding the broader environmental issues and context of a site. They can offer valuable input in the early site planning and building location phases. This input can establish a stronger, more comprehensive relationship of indoor and outdoor programming, with particular attention to the overall site context, constraints, and
topographic issues. And landscape architects are not “landscapers.”
Landscape architecture, at least in the U.S., is stuck somewhere in the past. We must ask how to define current landscapes without characterizing them as having a resemblance to a Picturesque or Modern style. What does it mean to be contemporary?
I was thinking about urban parks and open spaces and how we have neglected to think holistically about the changing demographic. How are the urban open spaces we design actually more useable, more sustainable, for those who don’t have the option of escaping the city? As stewards of the land, how are we helping to fulfill this newfound quest to be sustainable? We truly have a lot of thinking to do.
Tom Leader Studio, “compost,” installation at Ohio State University, photo by Sara Peschel.
Tom Leader, ASLA
Tom Leader Studio
Why torture a plant?
Not that anyone needs to coddle the opportunistic rascals. It’s just that architecturally obsessing over them is so bourgeois, apologetic, and “cart before the horse.” So many architects are dying to cover their problematic walls, roofs, and obscure lobby niches with thick, luxuriant growth that they must have seen in some Merchant Ivory film or in Hair Club for Men commercials. “The building is all about landscape!” Whatever you say. Most plants object to this treatment and with good reason, since they prefer to grow out of the ground, where they can be with their other friends and congenial microbes. If you want biomass for your wall, what about something easier like twig bundles, fake orchids, or RyKrisp?
After a second round of Manhattans and wasabi peas in the office, we sometimes speculate on the yearning, the thwarted passion for an “ism,” indeed, to achieve “IsmIsm.” God knows, poor Heathcliff spent his whole life struggling against his lack of pedigree in order to gain love and acceptance. It is less known that he was also the first landscape architect to search for a higher purpose. We all owe him a debt. But most of his papers were lost when the castle was struck by lightning, and consequently he left few clues as to the precise meaning of “landscape urbanism.” Scattered among the ashes, we do find cryptic mention of some vacant lots in Detroit and an unexecuted design for a wooden bicycle. Also some quantity-based ideas for book titles such as “1,000 Plateaus,” “1,000,000 Trees,” “700 Impact Head Sprinklers,” and “467,988 Stop Signs.” Modern day believers remain undeterred, and we support their efforts to bring some mysticism and unrequited lust to the field.
SWA Group, Lewis Avenue, Las Vegas; photo by Tom Fox/SWA Group.
Marco Esposito, ASLA
The project site limit of work is always bigger than we think. Not only in terms of understanding and establishing design integrity, but also in setting up the clearest people and vehicle flows, accommodating storm water, marshalling utilities to least-visible locations and exploring non-obvious opportunities to improve the experience for everyone on the property and surrounding community. Can the adjacent street be narrowed and enhanced to become the front of the project and valuable outdoor space? Can various people and vehicle entrances be consolidated? What about that windowless one-story building . . . can we better use that space?
Using Land Carefully and Cleverly
The resource that landscape architects have the most influence over—land—is very precious and getting more so all the time. With 57 million square miles of land and 6.7 billion people, the planet has only 5.5 acres for each of us, including wild lands, agricultural and pasture lands and towns and cities. With towns and cities about 2% of the land surface, are we using sites carefully and cleverly? Can the design team work together to invite a few more (or many more) people to each project in a compelling way? Can we design for another 1-2 increments of growth? Every time we use land carefully, we reduce the use of fossil fuels and protect natural resources.
Making Existing Towns and Cities Ever More Livable
We’re in the midst of a real estate dynamic in this direction, and keeping it going in this direction is a satisfying and worthy landscape architectural endeavor.
As review processes grow in complexity, with ever more inflexible standards and requirements, the challenge to push through built projects that are truly beautiful may not be motivating but sure requires motivation!
Katherine Spitz Associates, Inc., West Hollywood Garden, photo by Steve Lacap.
Katherine Spitz, AIA, ASLA
Katherine Spitz Associates, Inc., Landscape Architecture and Planning
I want to remind architects that the art of landscape and the art of building have a long, interconnected history. Architectural education rarely addresses the rich and complex history of landscape design. Although many architects imbue their buildings with precedent and meaning, landscape remains the “leftover”—a bit of greenery around a building, a stereotypical plane of turf, or a planter with bamboo. My dream is that architects would expand their knowledge of history to include landscape, and that their understanding the precedents and principles of landscape architectural history would break down the conceptual barriers between building and site design.
First, landscape architecture and architecture will need to become more regional and site specific. What makes sense in temperate New England will not make sense in the arid West, for example, which standards like LEED will need to better address. Response to the local environment will generate profound change in the look of our buildings and landscapes, especially in the civic and institutional realms. I look forward to this as a tremendous opportunity to develop radically creative, meaningful, and diverse designs. Second, the motivation to sit lightly on the land will alter our perception of the role of landscape architecture in site development. Landscape architects must become more involved in siting concepts, building orientation, and landscape strategies during the design process.
GLS Landscape | Architecture, UC Berkeley Units 1 & 2, EHDD, photo by Patrick Argast.
Gary Strang, AIA, ASLA
GLS Landscape | Architecture
I would like architects to consider that there is a stratum of architectural precedent, especially relevant for our time, whereby buildings enter into an equal dialogue with the landscape. Examples might be Machu Picchu, La Mesquita in Cordoba (The Court of the Oranges), Jefferson at UVA, Wright at Taliesin West, Scarpa at Brion Cemetery, Kahn at Salk Institute, much of the work of Richard Neutra, perhaps the San Francisco Art Institute by Paffard Keatinge-Clay. There are many others, but the architectural press has rarely reported on the entire story.
I would refer architects to the full text of Kenneth Frampton’s keynote address to the UIA in 1999 in Beijing entitled “Seven Points for the Millennium: An Untimely Manifesto.” It is especially powerful coming from one who has a connoisseur’s lifelong appreciation for the sculptural object:
“. . . the design of landscape is of greater critical consequence than architecture on its own . . . . I am convinced that architectural and planning schools . . . should give much greater emphasis to the cultivation of landscape as an overarching system rather than concentrating exclusively, as they have tended to do up to now, on the design of buildings as aesthetic objects.”
Landscape architecture at its best is concerned with the artistic expression of the relationship between people and nature and, by extension, between technology and nature. If one considers that the numbers of people and the extent of technology are unprecedented in human history, then the artistic potential should be limitless, and this should be a very exciting time. The large extent to which buildings have become open and transparent, while the landscape has become more constructed, has led to a much larger area of overlap between architects and landscape architects, and a situation in which the intertwining of nature and technology will lead to new forms and solutions.
On the other hand, landscape architects can read landscapes the way architects read cities and buildings, and clearly there is cause for alarm in regard to the health of natural systems, in terms of climate change, invasive species, and so on. As one who studies natural systems, it is hard not to feel like an engineer walking into a masonry building with diagonal cracks that have been painted over.
The revolution that has occurred in architecture in regard to mechanical engineering is awaiting its corollary in landscape architecture, that is, a revolution in civil engineering.
PWP Landscape Architecture, Saitama Sky Forest Plaza, Tokyo, with NTT UD Architects, photo courtesy PWP Landscape Architecture.
Peter Walker, FASLA
PWP Landscape Architecture
Fine landscapes like fine architecture require an appropriate level of budget.
Sustainability is the result of skillful maintenance.
You should put a $200 tree in a $2,000 hole, not the other way around.
The most important part of almost all fine landscapes is the plantings that are alive, and therefore, require care. Like children, without this care, they won’t amount to much.
Lutsko Associates Landscape, 897 N. Market Sustainability Gardens, Redding, CA,
photography by Marion Brenner.
Ron Lutsko, Jr.
Lutsko Associates landscape
Each discipline should better understand the other; a narrow perspective in either frustrates the other. This applies to an historic perspective as well as current topics. Architecture has a relatively linear historic evolution, focusing on the building/building complex, while landscape has encompassed many areas of thought (architecture, ecology, art, etc.), and the importance of each has shifted over time. Landscape can thus be more difficult to define concisely. Unfortunately, most design educations do not focus sufficiently on the parallel discipline, and thus self-education is imperative to functioning fluidly in collaborative work: architects should study landscape, and landscape architects should study architecture.
Of prime importance today are the relationships between people and nature, design and ecology. Nature must be incorporated into everyday life, taking us beyond the notion of a preserved, museum-like display separate from people. This must be done in the form of high design (not mimicking nature), creating stellar living spaces that put us back in touch with our place in the natural world. Art, architecture, human health and comfort, resource conservation and habitat development all fall within this larger goal.
Mia Lehrer + Associates, Civitas, Inc. and Wenk Associates, LA State Historic Park connection.
Mia Lehrer, FASLA, and Esther Margulies, ASLA, Partners
Mia Lehrer + Associates
Architects need to expand their comfort zone. It is safer to promote a natural aesthetic to public agencies and developers, but we need support from the design team in promoting daring materials and new ways of developing the landscape. Owners look to the architect to provide design leadership.
The desperate need for open space in many areas of Los Angeles cannot be solved by public agencies alone. We need to contribute to the public open space network instead of designing private courtyards for the privileged few. We cannot continue to cover the earth with green buildings and parking lots for hybrids. When a building and its parking cover more land than they need to, we reduce ground water resources and require more drainage infrastructure and water treatment plants. We must build taller and leave more of the earth permeable.
Landscape architects historically took on the scale of infrastructure in development beyond the urbanized city. Now that our cities have overgrown the infrastructure, and neighborhoods, schools, and parks are surrounded by freeways and cut off by drainage channels, we must look at systems of delivery, conveyance, and evacuation at the scale of the city and the region. One of our preoccupations is the implementation of such large scale, longterm projects, educating the community, government agencies, and elected officials.