Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Set Your Sights on Sites

Exploring a New Golden Age in Landscape Architecture

By Brian Summerfield

Working Together

Of course, landscape architects continue to deal with the traditional concerns of their vocation. For example, public art is still very important, with the added wrinkle that more U.S. cities are starting to establish arts commissions, which often include parks and recreation decision makers. "It's a very intuitive and natural thing," Crawford said of this development. (However, as Walters pointed out, "Public art is a desire but, unfortunately, is the last thing on the list to be added.")

New requirements with regard to sustainability, technology and activities have mixed in with more traditional functions of landscape architecture, though, making it a much more complex endeavor.

For instance, Walters said he's seen a rise in interest for historic restorations, particularly for urban parks. Yet this once-straightforward activity has been influenced by newer developments, so that it becomes an opportunity to impart some additional information about the space. "Parks that fall into disrepair and have a historical background allow the opportunity to reintegrate and re-expose significant layers of historical, cultural and ecological influences," he explained.

Walters also said he's seeing more parks looking for master plan commitments from their landscape architects, with a phased build-out plan to include mixed-use, shared use and educational opportunities. "Trends toward greener buildings and lower-impact development are moving the role of the landscape architect to the beginning of the design process," he added.

Also, when it comes to major landscape projects for parks and other outdoor spaces, there is a great deal more scrutiny. This results in more public and stakeholder meetings, and a lengthier and more robust input-gathering process, Hornig said. "The effects of the recession have brought about a higher level of public involvement and expectations, with the public demanding more accountability," he explained. "It impacts the way we present things. We use more 3-D visualizations and charts with information to support the project."

Today, projects work best when all of the principals and stakeholders hold discussions early on to build a consensus, then move forward united in their objectives, Hornig said. He experienced this when he worked on a children's garden in the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. This four-acre themed space was designed with the intention of getting children to appreciate nature and natural landscapes in the area.

"It was one of those projects everyone knew was special," Hornig explained. "Everyone was invested in making sure it came out special. It's always better to work on a collaborative team."

When a group can come together around a common philosophy of creating spaces that are stimulating, edifying and environmentally sound, magic things can happen, Crawford said.

"We want to improve the condition of whatever we're trying to enhance not only in terms of the human experience, but also the environmental impact," he said. "This produces an economic benefit.

"Parks have too often in the past been considered a quality-of-life amenity. More people are starting to understand that parks play a critical role in the health of people and their surroundings, not only in physical terms, but also spiritual and mental."