Contributed by:
Brian Fitzgerald

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Urban Landscape: The Fusion of Large Scale Landscape Concepts & High Density Development

Charles Waldheim, chair of Harvard GSD’s Landscape Architecture department, defined Landscape Urbanism as a way “to produce urban effects traditionally achieved through the construction of buildings simply through the organization of horizontal surfaces.” The Dean of Princeton’s school of architecture, Stan Allen, touts Landscape Urbanism as a way to “produce urban effects without the weighty apparatus of traditional space making”.

This movement, and related movements, has caused some alarm in the traditional architectural world, and the thought concerned our CxD committee.  What happens to the vertical surface? LU leverages the natural environment, but will man-made spatial structures be discarded? Are landscape architects trying to throw architects out of the urban environment? Shouldn’t the two disciplines work together?

The AIA Dallas Communities by Design Committee wanted to create a dialogue with some of our esteemed landscape architect colleagues to help answer these questions.  Our panel was held Monday, February 4th at the DCFA and moderated by CxD co-chair Michael Buckley of the UTA Center for Metropolitan Density.  It included Kevin Sloan of Sloan Studio, Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside, Don Raines of Wallace Roberts and Todd, and Taner Ozdil, PhD, Associate Director for the Center for Metropolitan Density and Assistant Professor of Landscabpe Architecture at UTA.  Although it has been around for a while – Waldheim’s Landscape Urbanism Reader was published in 2006 – many architects, understandably, aren’t particularly familiar with the topic.

To provide a historical viewpoint in a limited time, Mr. Buckley rocketed through two millennia of history in 8 minutes.  With examples such as the Hanging Gardens of Bablyon and Le Notre’s Versailles, he illustrated that incorporating landscape in dense urban environments is not necessarily a new topic.  It is, however, part of a significant push by the landscape community to urge architects, planners, engineers – all of us – to make the most of the opportunity that landscape design presents.  Mr. Sloan underscored the opportunity that landscape offers a strategy and not simply a style.  It “becomes something by doing something,” as the late David Dillon described the Urban Reserve in Dallas.  Mr. Sloan also described the landscape design, first and foremost, as ‘defining space’.  This is something architects can collaborate on and find immediate common ground.

Mr. Arterburn displayed beautiful examples of landscapes that ‘performed’ while creatively satisfying engineering necessities.  In Austin, the Waller Creek project acts as a biofilter.  James Corner’s 2200 acre Fresh Kill’s Park competition entry in New York repairs the former brownfield site. Buffalo Bayou in Houston transforms discarded areas of the city into activated parkland, much like the goal for our Trinity River.  Dr. Ozdil touted the expansion of Evidenced Based Design via GIS while de-emphasizing yet another ‘–ism’. 

Mr. Raines followed up with his unique insight to the Trinity.   He struck a chord with our density guru, Mr. Buckley, by daring us to find a place exceeds opportunity offered by the Trinity River.  In terms of increased density, urbanization, and natural systematic performance opportunities, the Trinity is unmatched in this country, per Mr. Raines.

The panel illustrated that, while some in the national movement appear to minimize the role of architecture in the public realm, our panel clearly supported collaboration between the disciplines while offering a mode of responsible site design that is often not given the attention it deserves.