Can a new form of landscape architectural practice be achieved?

landscape architectural practice

Recently, I reviewed Overgrown by Julian Raxworthy, in which he calls on landscape architects to create a new form of practice that learns from gardening and “optimizes the exciting properties of plants through changing the way landscape architects work” which he is calling “the viridic”. Raxworthy provides a series of positions “for reformulation of landscape-architectural practice that combines the landscape architect and gardener” including:

  • breaking the split between human and plant
  • recognising that the nature of a plant is to grow and that the result of the design happens after planting over seasons, years, and decades.
  • landscape design should learn from maintenance techniques of gardening and tailor plans to suit.
  • the role of the garden is a learning environment and testing ground.
  • the nature of “the viridic” is iterative.
  • leaving the office and our plans & simulations to learn from gardening and gardeners.

Through reading Overgrown and Cleveland’s Landscape Architecture I began to consider whether a new form of landscape architectural practice can be achieved? Can we move beyond our prejudices to embrace and learn from gardening? Can we design without falling back onto plans and specifications or can they be reformulated into more flexible documents to achieve the design through site design?

There are numerous examples of garden designers and landscape architects such as Olmsted, Guilfoyle, Repton, Mueller, Brown, worked with plans and gardeners in the field to create, sculpt, position, and evolve their designs. Of course, we as contemporary landscape architects cannot spend hours, days, weeks, on-site to achieve the design outcome we desire; however, we can use some of the ideas and methods to enhance our design process from concept to ongoing maintenance.

read the full editorial on World Landscape Architecture

Service Procurement – finding the right people

As a landscape architect, one of the hardest things is to find great people to collaborate with. And we often have to look to procure services from other professionals including architects, engineers, horticulturalists, ecologists, irrigation designers, lighting designers, landscape contractors and many others. How we obtain these services is often based on past experience and word of mouth. Some landscape architects consistently use the same professionals because they know their work and enjoy working together. However, we often need to obtain new services due to unavailability, a new area of expertise, or you have a project in a new location. Often we seek the experience of others to find new people to provide a service but how can you reduce the risk of working with the wrong consultant?

Similar to when landscape architects are bidding for projects there are a set of criteria and it is best practice to do the same including:

  • Past experience – does the company have past experience in that area of expertise and location?
  • The right people – do they have the right people with the expertise you need? Also are those people available?
  • Willingness – are they willing to work with a new client? (i.e. you)  – some consultants have a large pipeline of work and aren’t seeking new clients.
  • Financially viable – do they have money/cashflow issues? (this is the hardest one to evaluate as most companies are private and don’t publically disclose financial information)
  • Qualifications and certifications – does the company have the right qualifications and certifications such as ISO9001 or ISO45001?
  • Insurances – do they have the right insurances and coverage?
  • Industry reputation – does the company have a good or bad reputation? Are there particular people in the company who are great to work with?

These are ways that you can minimise risk when looking for consultants to join your project team. It also comes down to relationships and working well together. If you can build a good relationship then it is a pleasure to work together and create projects as a team and you will also start to recommend each other to others. Word of mouth and networks are a great way to procure and win work.

How can we better promote landscape architecture?

In a recent WLA reader survey, the most common answer to the question What is your biggest problem you face working as a landscape architect? was a lack a recognition of landscape architecture by the allied professionals and clients. What is the solution to our lack of recognition? How do we let people know what landscape architects do and the value that we bring?

Landscape architects are often conflicted as they seek to create better places often thinking of the profession as a vocation and therefore wish to be humble achievers in the background rather than our colleagues in other professions who seek the limelight, we often don’t promote our role and also not acknowledged by architects or clients as was recently highlighted by a New York Times feature piece about the Chicago Riverwalk  which didn’t mention the role of the Sasaki – the landscape architect for the project. We need to as a profession need to lose the notion that we are in a vocation and that landscape architecture is a profession like so many others that in an ever-increasing world of noise needs to grow a stronger voice to promote our work beyond that of our own profession. (if you don’t have the 5 minutes to read this article skip to the In Summary at the end)

Simplify our Language
The first step is to change and improve our use of language, landscape architects are known to not write and also when we do we use a blanket of jargon to create a sense of knowledge and academia around our work which in turn often alienates those who wish to learn more. Listen or read any recent presentation and you will find that there are peppering of jargon including public realm, tactical urbanism, spatial awareness and many others phrases that create a barrier between the profession and those who we seek to engage and acknowledgement.

A great example of using simple everyday language is the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscapecampaign which discusses places, outdoors, spaces, environment, nature allowing those viewing and reading the message to quickly and easily understand what landscape architects do and the range of careers that landscape architects can choose.

Storytelling
As landscape architects, we need to improve the way we explain our designs, often we are too engrossed in analysis and explaining our response to the site that we forget to create a story about the design and what we have created a space for people and other inhabitants. This could be that we were not educated in our university courses to create stories and narratives but more to justify our designs. We need to become better storytellers through written and visual media, whether it be a display board, presentation or video.

Read the full article 

Why do I write simply?

Over the 10 years of the WLA blog and this blog, I have written many op-eds and posts that people have commented and appreciated. One comment I often receive is that my writing could be at a higher level or more complex. However, I have consciously made the effort to write more simply.

I believe that most professions do themselves a disservice by writing long complex articles laden with jargon and even more so by academics. The general public and allied professionals often have little understanding of what it professions do and by using jargon you increase the gap for them to learn about your profession.

Many people who read WLA and this blog are not native English speakers or readers and often use translators to gain a full understanding of content. By writing in a complex or verbose manner you increase the chance that the translation is either a total misinterpreted or a mix of their language with a mix of English words. I know this from spending time living in China and also being married to a Chinese national who uses translators on a daily basis.

These are the main two reasons that I write more simply, I hope to make the general public have a greater understanding of landscape architecture and that those who aren’t native English readers can have a full understanding of my posts.

Presenting at conferences – provide knowledge over promotion

Over the last few years, I have attended a few conferences and seminars and the people I remember the most are those who are passionate about the topic and those who provide some insights and knowledge. The people I forget or remember for the wrong reasons are those people who see this as a promotion opportunity and present their work in a general sales pitch.

When presenting at a conference we are often presenting to our peers, so its not really a great audience to be giving a sales pitch, they are more interested in you,  your process and the knowledge you can share rather than promotion.

Here are some tips for making an interesting presentation

  1. Make it about the audience
    If you were in the audience what would want to know about you? what would make you think – hey this person really knows their stuff?
  2. What is your key message?
    All too often we make the mistake of trying to cover too many points in a limited time span. Most people will only remember 3-4 key points, there it is better to centre those points around one key message
  3. Tailor the presentation to the time allowed
    You have to remember to tailor the presentation to the time and try not to overrun.
    – 10 minutes then make 1-2 good points and take it slow. I have made the mistake in the past of adding too many points as I feel the need to cover more information but it is better to make it memorable for people with one key point.
    – 30- 45 minutes then 3-4 points that are well thought out and structured. If  — – More then 45 minutes then make it 3-4 points and the rest Q&A.
  4. Tailor the message to the audience
    When you start thinking of ideas and complete your first draft it is best to try and think about how to tailor the message to the audience and remember that not everyone in the audience may know about your industry or work, it is best to go through and remove acronyms and jargon. I have sat through 10 minutes of presentation until I realised what the acronym stood for.
  5. Go broader than your own work
    As stated previously, we are not interested in a sales pitch, so sometime it may require you to include work from other companies. Of course, you will credit them and seek permission first. Some of the best presentations I have seen provide a broad range of projects that present the best examples of an idea or theory.

Remember, the presentation is about your audience and not you, it is best to provide knowledge that is most valuable to them and avoid seeing as a great to promote you or your company.

 

Changing the climate change message from the fear to solutions

Over the past few years it has struck me how the climate change movement and the numerous presentations I have watched in person or online try to move people to action through fear and numbers.

First, lets address the numbers issue. All too often referring to large scale problems whether it is gun violence, road trauma or other major issue refer to numbers as a means to get people to take action or adjust behaviour. However, over the past twenty years I have noticed that people cannot grasp numbers too well especially those of large proportions (e.g. millions or billions) as it is not a number they deal with on a day to day basis. Also, time and numbers also creates a numbness and is why people often switch off when listening to people discuss the impacts of climate change because for some people they can’t see the impact of sea level change when discussed as a problem that will impact in 2025 or 2030 or 2050. Due to the nature of people’s attention spans being ever slowly reduced to seconds, it is hard to expect them to think in years and decades.

Second, fear is often the way we try to get people to listen and to change behaviour. The fear of consequences is what our parents used, teachers used and governments use to change our behaviour. However, like numbers this continual method of use fear and consequence to change behaviour is waning with people starting to realise that they can live with the consequences as it the impact is spend over so many that it has little impact on their day to day lives.

How do we get the message of the importance of climate change and the need as a species to take hold? There is two methods we need to use – group action and visual solutions.

Group Action – We often try to get people to change individually (through fear and guilt) to make an impact, however often it falls on deaf ears as they feel that changing their own lives doesn’t have a big impact on problems that are larger than life. Therefore, it is better to education people about groups (community, city, state, country, worldwide) they can join and how they can get the message out to broader audience using large numbers of people and how they can influence government, companies, and organisations through group action.

Visual Solutions – all too often the message we provide around climate change is are numbers, or the consequences such as the maps showing flooding of Manhattan or Shanghai or another large city. We need to show solutions and results in photos, diagrams, videos, animation and other visual formats. An image can move people, showing people images of reef that was once lost and now reborn, or a river delta that has been saved with oyster reefs or a wetland park that is mitigating flooding as part of “sponge cities” in China. These images have impact along with information provide people with a message of hope that there are solutions.

Climate change is one of largest problems the world has ever faced, but we will only create solutions and save the world by changing the message from one of fear to one of solutions.

Be open to ideas and move beyond “the right way” or “this is how we do it”

When you have worked for various companies and clients in different countries and cultures you soon realise that there is not one way to do something. Never get lost in the pushing what you think is the “right way of doing it” on to others.  You may have learnt the “right way” at school or university or at the starchitect firm you worked at but you soon realise that way of doing it may have been right for that time or project. Education institutions, Society and Culture are all too often hung up on the proving and judging what is the right way and ignoring the fact that learning and innovation comes from testing, failing, learning and trying different ways.

Doing something the same way for years just ends up perpetrating the cycle without improvement. Be open to other ideas and continue to research, analyse, review, and learn whether it is designing, working or living.

Book Review | The Social Organism by Oliver Luckett & Micheal J. Casey

social-organism-luckett

I picked up The Social Organism after watching Oliver Luckett on Gary Vaynerchuk’s #askgaryvee vlog and was interested in the concept of social (media) as seen from the lens of an organism. The book gives background of the Social Organism and how the seven rules of life (biology) can be applied to social media. Luckett explores social media through the many lens/ideas throughout the book including Darwinism, commercial printing presses, and more however, the main lens/idea of the book of organism/science is explored including Koestler’s model, cell organisms, genes, artificial intelligence. It may appear at first glance that this would be a boring read, however the book is written to allow the reader to understand at a basic principles and how they can be applied to social media.

Luckett uses real life examples throughout the book including #BlackLivesMatter, Spring uprising, Taylor Swift swifties, Oreo’s dunk in the dark, League of Legends and more to show the good and bad aspects of social media and how many still don’t understand that social media is not a fad, or just another platform or media but a part of social makeup of many places that jump local, state and nation boundaries and work at a international level. However, one criticism I have of the book is that it is very USA-centric in its examples and reference points with only a few international examples (platforms, movements) which are covered all too briefly in the book. Another criticism of the book is that it spends too long in the initial chapters explaining terms of reference and concepts which I realise is needed for those who have little to no background in social media. I think there are many ideas in the book that are covered only briefly that could have been further explored, but I think that also provides the opportunity for Luckett and co-writers to explore in a followup book.

Overall, this is a great book that I will read again over the Christmas 2016 break to gain more ideas for the future.  The main takeaway from the book is that social media has its good and bad sides and that we are living in an era when social media and the coming internet of things(IoT) is transforming the way we live, interact and govern. If you have any interest in sociology or social media I encourage you to get a copy and read it with a notepad or highlighter/marker by your side as it is full of great ideas that will trigger your own interesting thought processes. I am hoping that Luckett and co-writers have a follow up book in the making to explore ideas in more depth.