Monday, October 6, 2014

Has ASLA Abandoned the Residential Garden?

Yes, No, Maybe so? By Susan Hines

2009 composed salad LA: Coen + Partners  Photos: Paul Crosby, Paul Crosby Architectural Photography

In just a few weeks, the recipients of the American Society of Landscape Architect’s 2014 Professional Awards will be hustled across the stage in Denver for a quick handshake and photo-op. The purpose of the ASLA Professional Awards is to “honor the best in landscape architecture from around the globe.” Although, the society recognizes accomplishments in research, land planning and analysis as well as communications, the majority of submissions are in the general and residential design categories. Here, are completed designs of every project type, from corporate campuses and public parks (General Design) to rooftop terraces and country estates (Residential).

Given the talent pool, the best landscape architects of our time, practicing in diverse regions of the country, indeed, around the globe, one would expect a range of work across a broad spectrum of landscape styles. This would seem to be particularly true of the residential design category.  In theory, professionals submitting in this category must respond to clients’ needs and preferences as well as site conditions and varied architectural styles. The potential for diverse ideas, inspiration and just plain eye-candy seems pretty good. 

LA Blasen Landscape Architecture,  Photo: Marion Brenner Photography
Unfortunately, and ever increasingly, the anticipation of professionals and public alike quickly fades when the winning residential designs are revealed. Taken as a group they are almost invariably contemporary residences, actually modern in the true sense of that word—minimalist, rectilinear, frequently flat roofed, glazing galore, devoid of ornamentation. The landscape response resembles a composed salad: Beets here, shredded carrot there, a well-placed radish, a small pile of asparagus served on a bed of lawn. The problem with this comparison is that the salad described is much more colorful than the award winning projects and may contain a greater variety of plants.  

Yet the same jury selects the General Design awards. Within this category, gardens with intricate planting are ever increasingly among the winning designs. Last year, three gardens and the famed Highline (Section Two)—with its exceptional planting design—captured awards. The growing dominance of gardens in the General Design category is the exception that proves the rule. What is the jury signaling?  

Consider this possibility: Landscape architects do not want to be confused with gardeners, garden designers or, heaven forbid, landscapers or landscape designers. When a house is involved, rather than a major public or private open space, the line becomes murky. Historically the term “garden” is associated with a building, most often a house. In the UK the term is used colloquially to describe the front or back of any residence—improved or unimproved. In the US, we use the term “yard” in the same way, as in, ”I love the landscaping in your front yard. Did you use the same company that mows your lawn?”  

Status anxiety is at the root of this dilemma and is nowhere better displayed than in the ASLA residential design awards. Landscape architects are highly trained, licensed design professionals, constantly forced to distinguish themselves in the popular mind from landscapers—the hoi polloi “mow and blow” crowd-- and from gardeners with their unruly plants. If the ASLA national seal of approval were stamped on a residential garden, rather than a landscape with domestic adjacency it may be hard for your above-average landscape architect to take. After all, these professionals already labor in the shadow of a far greater being: The Architect.  

If you liked this post . . .

Related Posts with Thumbnails