Resilience, Nature & The Resilient Nature of Our Field


Hold System: Flushing Bay – Queens, NY –  Concept and image credit: dlandstudio – architecture + landscape architecture pllc


  •  The ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
  • The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. 

This November, I attended the 2014 American Society of Landscape Architects Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.  Each year a theme is chosen to guide topics for educational sessions. This year the theme was “Resilience”.  In the words of ASLA president Mark Focht:

“Resiliency is inherent to how landscape architects are wired. It is who we are and what we do. We work with the land and nature, not against it.”

This resiliency in our field was addressed in each education session; many of which referred to natural disasters in areas of the United States. Some solutions presented were: a wetland buffer and “sponge park” idea in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, large-scale planting and re-forestation areas designed to withstand periods of drought in Texas, and the uses of bio-retention and rain gardens in response to the 2013 floods in the Front Range of Colorado. See images below for details on these projects. 

These sessions affected my view of landscape architecture and its role in a much bigger picture. I believe that our field is faced with addressing the following global issues:

  • Natural disasters have become more prevalent. We have seen several mega-events recently that have impacted large populations; events which are projected to increase in frequency and severity. How can we help plan ahead as landscape architects and design for such extremes?
  • How do we convince our clients and governments to address vulnerabilities proactively, rather than re-actively after a disaster?
  • Using the flooding on the Colorado Front Range as a close-to-home example, how have we learned from these events? How can we apply what we know from them to plan and design our communities?
  • In a world where we are accustomed to immediate results and instant gratification, how can we start thinking about our work as a 20, 40, 50 or even 100 year process?

It is an exciting time to be a Landscape Architect. My belief in the resiliency of landscape architecture has been reconfirmed. We have an important role to play in shaping the future of the world around us.

Click HERE to watch a video about the City of Boulder’s recovery efforts after the September 2013 flood.

A Luxury for Queens


With the success of New York’s new High Line park, it is not surprising that other towns and cities are looking towards their abandoned areas as potential park sites. Even the smallest of spaces are now being considered as potential community amenities.

The QueensWay Project in Queens, New York intends to reuse a segment of the abandoned Rockaway Rail Line and develop the space into 3.5 miles of recreational trails through the city. The Project expands on others’ examples by providing more recreational opportunities, such as a skate area.

Here in Denver, we are lucky to be in a city that embraces public parks, which provides us many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors within an urban setting. However, many cities like Queens are struggling to find the space for urban parks and all of the benefits they provide to communities. Projects like The QueensWay are a creative solution to this challenge.

“This will be a wonderful park for Queens… It will provide a safe way for people to get to Forest Park without having to cross dangerous traffic, and the visitors of the QueensWay will help local businesses. It will also provide outdoor recreation for thousands of people who need that access”  says Will Rogers, president of The Trust for Public Land, which has overseen the the project (

Today, space is often a luxury. Cities without this luxury can follow Queens’ lead and use existing spaces to create unique and profitable amenities.

Read more about the Queensway Project HERE

Realism, Stylization & Legos

Star WarsWith our continued use of 3D modeling and photo-realistic renderings, we often talk about how “real” we want our hand-crafted images to seem. If the image seems too real, people think what is rendered is already built; or they may assume the concept is fully realized and doesn’t need further development. However, If the image doesn’t look real enough, or is too stylized, it’s hard to convey the impact of the concept. Finding the right balance between realism and stylization is crucial  in the early rendering process. It helps to set expectations and build on the fidelity of the concept.

My recent trip to Legoland in California, this type of balance referenced itself in miniature lego landscapes throughout the park. I found it interesting how the scenes integrated “real” features so that elements which couldn’t be captured by the plastic style were still visceral to the senses: the splash of running water, the sound of wind through the trees in the forest of Endor, or the reflection in the pond in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

Legoland helps illustrate an important balance needed in the rendering of a scene or environment.

The combined use of “real” features and Lego bricks is impressive, but the sheer number of total legos used is mind-boggling. The Star Wars landscapes alone use over 1.5 million Lego bricks!

[ For your Lego repertoire: If you have six 2×4 Lego bricks of the same color, they can be stacked 915,103,765 different ways ] Now imagine all the design possibilities for our computer renderings!

You can learn more about LegoLand at its website:

Chain-Link Fences & Sunflowers



Marye and Horticulture Student


Two Horticulture Students




















The Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center is a privately run juvenile detention center in Durango, Colorado. While many people cringe at the thought of a juvenile detention center, I have a very positive association with this specific program. Before my time at DHM, I was employed at the DeNier center for several years. While it was not always an easy place to work, I gained valuable and life-changing experiences that have redefined my outlook on human interaction and the cathartic nature of outdoor spaces.

The DeNier center has a unique approach to rehabilitating the youth that come through the program. It presents its students with diverse opportunities in the facility and outside in the community. The most life-changing and powerful experience for me was watching the students participate in the now-retired horticulture program.

Run by Marye, local volunteer, Master Gardener and personal friend, the horticulture program was an essential component of the DeNier Center for years. Students, based on positive and pro-social behavior, would apply to and were selectively accepted into the program. Marye and her students would begin in early spring mapping out and planting seeds in the DeNier Center Garden. The program required its students to spend 1-2 hours in the garden, 5 days a week from April to September.

While supervising this time in the garden, I often found myself emotional and mystified by what I saw; a stark contrast between tall, metal chain-link fences, sunflowers, and smiling children. Frequently, I questioned how these kids were able to put so much joy and care into the garden when they had experienced so little of such in their own lives.

While teens will be teens and often had to be redirected from spraying each other with hoses and throwing dirt around, I was mostly impressed by the dedication and focus they showed in the garden. I was even more impressed by the patient, compassionate leader that Marye was in her program. She oversaw occasional outbursts, blowups and authority issues, while still caring tenderly for her students and produce; the fragile and growing things that needed her attention and patience.

I believe Marye’s Horticulture Program helped illustrate important life-lessons about work, community and cooperation for her students. It showed these lost young people how to appropriately interact, socialize and work together. The program taught them to work hard to serve themselves as well as their peers.

Each September when autumn and the harvest arrived, the garden and program produced very palpable advantages for the kids. Tomato and sweet pea vines crept up fences and arches, and gourds were grown and entered in the La Plata County Fair. Strawberries were grown for immediate consumption by program participants, and herbs were plucked daily for use in the DeNier Center kitchen. These kids were able to touch, smell, and taste the product of working toward a goal and reaching it. For once, they had seen something from start-to-finish.

Maybe the key in helping troubled people lies in something as simple as a garden.

You can read more about the DeNier Center Horticulture Program in the Durango Herald, HERE.

Or you can read another article I wrote about the program in the Division of Youth Corrections Newsletter, HERE.

Mapping Human Energy in Place


The internet is an amazing resource. As landscape architects we use it as a source of information, imagery, and inspiration for many of our projects. Mining the internet for specific information and turning our findings into something visually useful is very challenging; an art-form in itself.

Eric Fischer, self-proclaimed “Geek of Maps” has mastered this art-form. In 2010, he created a process capable of collecting, analyzing and mapping geo-tagged Flickr photos and Twitter tweets.

Geo-tagging is the assignment of geographical latitude and longitude coordinates to pieces of information such as pictures, street addresses, or 140 character muses that allow the information to be located in space relative to other pieces of information.

See Something, Say Something – Eric Fischer

In his mapping project, entitled “See Something or Say Something,” Mr. Fischer uses red dots to represent geo-tagged Flickr photos, blue dots for geo-tagged tweets, and white dots for geotags tied to both photos and tweets.

 In “Locals and Tourists”, Fischer uses blue dots to show Flickr photos taken by locals and red dots for photos taken by tourists. He analyzed each Flickr contributor’s primary region of photo activity to differentiate between locals and tourists. The yellow dots represent photos where he could not make a local vs. tourist determination on the contributor.

Locals vs  Tourists

Locals Vs. Tourists – Eric Fischer


The maps that result from Mr. Fischer’s process are both artful and informative. Researchers have found them useful tools for investigating everything from social/racial conditions, to the confluence of virtual and real-world infrastructure. The beauty of Eric Fischer’s work is that his maps are successful on many levels. Superficially, they are visually appealing and validate things that we might think we already know, i.e. tourists like to take photos in parks. Deeper, they are maps of human engagement, energy, excitement, passion, and conflict in a place; a pioneering view of human interaction in the landscape.

You can view more of Eric’s maps on his Flickr account here, or read more about him in the Washington Post here.