Will sandy landscape architecture design
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Will sandy landscape architecture design efforts catch fire?
When the National Building Museum opens its innovative $1 billion, master-planned High Line, urban planners are sure to note its success as a park – its lawns, food, organic cafés, “urban agriculture”, its natural-oriented vernacular approach, its gardens, its redevelopment plans, its tasteful, environmentally-conscious housing, its collaboration with a community-based, community-oriented institution, and, yes, its ecological function. Its many designers have worked together, seamlessly, and carefully and creatively with the public and with New York City’s public agencies to make the green landscape a reality. It’s a good example of a success model, one that has been evolving for several decades and now is in demand around the world.
The High Line’s design reflects an emerging pattern among today’s landscape architects. Each landscape architect takes from their background a mixture of practical and aesthetic considerations, makes a wish list of garden components and structural treatments that fit those needs, and approaches architects and engineers to incorporate those elements into the overall design. The High Line’s innovative and highly specific structural treatment is an extreme case of this phenomenon. By now, landscape architects everywhere are going through this transformation, though very few (with few exceptions) are using a collaborative design approach.
So, is the era of residential landscape design on the wane? Does it need to disappear?
Ironically, given the progressive nature of so many current planning and design problems, one of the current landscape design models’ less contentious use comes in the realm of public education, rather than development, a land use often sensitive to aesthetic concerns.
In some ways, the Low Line (an alternative name for the High Line) could be seen as a design-focused education model. New York City has made recent strides in sustainable and innovative thinking and practice in landscape planning, with the High Line as a prominent example of design for public access.
But, as Andrew Kiraly, landscape architect for the Low Line project and vice president of Kiraly Landscape Architecture, says, “…landscape architects don’t come to the table with a land use analysis – a problem-solving strategy. Landscape architects are trained and practiced to engage the public in design process. They work with the client to understand site and programmatic needs. But, at the end of the day, landscape architects’ thinking is that of the creative practitioner, not that of the advocate or planner. There is a lot of ‘wouldn’t it be nice?’ thinking in the design of some landscapes,” he says. “This is true in terms of thinking, but even more so in terms of writing the public record.”
As Kiraly puts it: “We’ve got a unique land and site context – it’s a vertical space,” and he admits, “We’ve made some great tools and generated some inspiration, but [the High Line] is not the final word.” He adds, “A great example of landscape architecture as a public-education tool is the High Line.”
But are landscapes built solely for public access to be as successful? Landscape architects aren’t only designers, they are managers. The creation of a park is only the first step in the planning and building process. The process goes through development, design, construction, and maintenance, with the city, the public, and other stakeholders, including elected officials and members of the public, on-site every step of the way.
“I feel like we have to keep at it as an essential element of sustainable practice.”
How much impact can landscape architecture have in the realm of sustainable design, and to what extent is it part of the solution? This is where landscape architects must prove that they can help design for energy, water, and other factors. Many landscapes are built and are maintained today without landscape architecture, but Kiraly says, “Our role is just as important to making communities sustainable.”
The emerging focus on sustainable practices across all disciplines – including landscape architecture – is a positive step. The High Line demonstrates how a landscape designer can build a public space that is accessible and pleasant, while at the same time providing sustainable qualities. But whether one is talking about the High Line or creating a more long-term process, this doesn’t mean sustainable practice is dead or should be made a focus only of landscape architecture.
Sometimes, landscape architecture should be looked at as a tool to aid developers, civic planners, and developers of sustainability-related development. Landscape architects must lead from the front, continuing the work that has been started, even if the land use planning process has to go forward. “I feel like we have to keep at it as an essential element of sustainable practice,” Kiraly says.