Can a new form of landscape architectural practice be achieved?

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 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 a 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.

Spaces for Social Exchange and Protest

In recent times, the spaces of the cities have become places of protest and places of attack. The fear is that these spaces will become fortified and lead to the reduction in public exchange and erosion of democratic use of spaces to protest. This leads us to the question of how do we design the streets and public spaces of cities to allow for the exchange of ideas (through protest) whilst protecting the safety of those involved in the exchange without fear of harm or attack.

To design spaces for social exchange we need to understand the community, discover their needs and wants, learn from past spaces and seek to create a tapestry of program over spaces that allow people to thrive and take ownership of the space. Using these principles will create a space that allows individuals and groups to exchange ideas whether it is in small groups or by protesting as a large group.

Read the full article at WLA

Heading towards Day Zero what can landscape architects do to reduce water stressed cities?

I recently posted a post on WLA (my landscape architecture blog) which aim to raise awareness of cities heading towards Day Zero such as Cape Town in South Africa who may have to progressively turn off taps in July throughout the city.

Excerpt

The city of Cape Town known as the hosting of the 2010 World Cup and known for its amazing landscape including Table Mountain has been in drought for 3 years and is heading towards Day Zeroy when dam levels reach 13.5% and the taps will be turned off in a phased approach. The government has set water restrictions at Level 6b which restricts water to 50 Litres per person as the original Day Zero date was April 12, but through the efforts of city and residents to save water has delayed Day Zero several times and is now predicted to be 15 July 2018. The city has provided guides, calculators and a Day Zero dashboard to educate residents on how to reduce water use including:

Read more at World Landscape Architecture

Trying to get support for WLA

My landscape architecture blog – WLA has been a labour of love for 10 years and has luckily had supporters for about 6 out of the 10 years. It has always been hard to get financial supporters for WLA as it seems even now in the prosperous time’s people don’t see the value. WLA is not the only landscape architecture blog or writing that struggles to get funding.  I am not complaining and understand the pressures of running businesses. However, it is troubling when the industry doesn’t back its own in promoting the industry, especially when every month I am paying out $$$ and not getting a salary or stipend for promoting the landscape architecture industry.

Many ask why don’t get more suppliers support WLA due to the high traffic on the website (50K visitors/month and 235,000 ranking in the world) and often my response is a mix of “suppliers don’t understand the value of blogs, digital media and are still into buying print and going to expos” or “they do their own blogs, social media and marketing so allocate the budget inhouse”. It is challenging and frustrating at times, usually at the end or the start of each year I think it is worth continuing for another year? What am I gaining? What are the benefits? Many think that WLA is some large team with a large budget when the truth is it is a one-man show using my own funds to keep it going. Many landscape blogs and sites have come and gone over the years, there are four (some old and some recent) that remain on different platforms (some with institute funding), 2018 will be interesting to see the changes.

I hope that 2018 is a good year and that I can get some more sponsors and partners. Currently, I have a few for this year and are thankful for their support.

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.

Welcome to 2018

2018 has arrived and its another year with which we all hope is better than the last and we plan for work, holidays, events, and more. Some people have resolutions around an action like losing weight or similar, but as I posted at the start of 2017, I am more of a person who sets goals and breaks them into mini-goals (typical project manager style).

For 2018, I have once again set some goals around work, WLA, life, family and health – not in the order of course ;-).

I wish you and your family a great 2018 and hope that the year brings whatever you hoped for.

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.