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Feature Article - May 2018

The Landscape View

Bringing the Many Benefits of Parks to the Forefront

By Dave Ramont


At Balboa Park they also identified the health value, according to Herrera-Mishler, by considering the people using the park as their primary gymnasium instead of paying for it, and doing it at a certain level that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sets. "We have 40,000 people who do their primary exercise at Balboa Park, and that's worth $40 million a year, according to the CDC."

Another national trend that Herrera-Mishler is noticing is a focus on preserving the history of parks. He explained how in Buffalo, there was great emphasis placed on the historic quality of the landscapes, as the entire park district was put on the national register since it was the first park system designed in America. "So this notion that the original design intent is important and should be recognized, celebrated, interpreted and preserved—I think that's an important design opportunity for landscape architects out there, because if you understand and celebrate the history of a site, you add depth to your design."

He added that this may or may not always be appropriate, depending on the will of the owners.

Herrera-Mishler described a report they've been generating involving the history and cultural landscape of Balboa Park, and pointed out that it's an important opportunity for landscape architects to do an in-depth analysis of what was added to their landscape, when it was added, by whom, why it's important and what condition it's in today. "This is a baseline report that's used to then manage and restore the historic landscape in the future. And we're discovering that there are parts of this park that are far more intact to its original 1902 master plan than anyone suspected."

Ishikawa and McCauley agree that while preserving a site's history is always a consideration, it depends on the site and the client. "The trick is performing adequate due-diligence and collaborating with the appropriate team of professionals to ensure the design process is informed from the start with information brought on by cultural impact studies, archeological surveys or simply record searches with the local municipality," McCauley said.

The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh is situated on 160 acres of land formerly used as a Civil War training camp, a prison and a prison farm. In 2015, expansion on the Museum Park began, with Lipovsky's firm developing the plan. The goal was to connect nature, art and people; to integrate art into the environment with recreation. The ongoing project includes the Wave Gardens, featuring paths, benches and more than 150,000 native plants. The Ellipse is a manicured lawn surrounded by a 600-foot elliptical ipe-wood bench. Community events take place in the various gardens, and there is an outdoor amphitheater with live music. There are serene meadow and hardwood forest views, a sculpture program and art installations, along with three miles of walking and cycling trails. As a symbol of the park's transformation, a brick smokestack from the former prison remains, re-interpreted as an art piece.

When deciding on furnishings or plants, maintenance must be considered and plantings should be designed with realistic maintenance levels.

Lipovsky said the project was a holistic collaboration with the museum, which was interested in how outdoor spaces and indoor collections could seamlessly integrate. They explored the idea of what a museum means now and historically, and what it could mean in the future. "Art, exercise, beauty, reflection; all of those facets were examined and debated thoroughly before we even put pen to paper. The ultimate design, from the big picture to the smallest detail, was very organically derived both of the site, its context and those initial brainstorming sessions we had with the client."

The different gardens and trails at NCMA were thought of as multipurpose spaces and networks providing a range of experiences for different users, according to Lipovsky, all serving to get people outside. "The Ellipse is a gathering space, a viewing space, a sitting area and a 600-foot long track for kids and adults to jog around. I see just as many kids run up and down the tilted lawn panels in the Wave Gardens as I see folks sitting on them enjoying the view," she said.

In fact, using pieces of art in public landscapes, a type of creative placemaking, is something that parks and municipalities are looking for, according to Lipovsky, where the landscape starts to inform the art and vice versa. She explained how NCMA didn't want them to simply design a surface upon which to place sculptures, they wanted a place where the landscape could stand alone or work in concert with future pieces. "Art can both inform and tell the story of a place rather than being an object that could be placed anywhere."

Ishikawa thinks that as the world becomes more globalized, designs can get anonymous, in a way where "place" and "context" can get lost within a trending landscape design. To counteract this, designers and their clients are looking to create a sense of identity using local artwork. "Rotating art is great because it will keep bringing people back to the space, and can change the character of a landscape," she said.

But McCauley pointed out that while incorporating major art pieces into spaces is often a consideration, they're not always included in the final design due to cost or coordination issues. "The art pieces that seem to make their way into our spaces are often like the murals throughout WAC (the Wabash Arts Corridor in Chicago's South Loop), added through local efforts after spaces are already created. Our goal often shifts to creating opportunities for these art installations to happen."

"Creative placemaking is at the forefront of how park managers are looking at their landscapes, and how to cross-pollinate the arts and culture with public landscape," said Herrera-Mishler, adding that temporary art installations seem to be the favored approach these days as opposed to permanent installations. "Creative placemaking can also just include a celebration of music or food or theater in the public landscape, so the impact that has on design is creating spaces that are welcoming to public events and can accommodate them in the public landscape," which includes considering access, security and safety. "Anyone working in the public realm these days has to design with security in mind."

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