It is rare that I am asked retrospectively to speak or write about my work. I liken this challenge to a medical self-examination. As a design professional I become engrossed in the details of each project: the client, the space, the opportunities and the constraints. Each project is taken on as a new creative opportunity as well as a technical problem solving mission… and so this is an insider’s view my work as a Landscape Architect.
Actually, this exercise is exciting to me for the simple reason that it’s a chance for everyone to learn from Susan’s “village.” It is my hope that the information shared here can be taken into the places where we all live, work and play and used to re-examine and “read” the cultural and physical processes that determine the character of those spaces.
I have chosen to focus on the first public planting project for discussion here; Susan referred to it as “the hell strip between a campus street and a dorm parking lot.” The goals of this project were clearly defined at the outset:
- Create a cohesive streetscape/vehicular road frontage for three residence halls that is attractive throughout the year and requires lower inputs of water/energy/human resources
- Limit the amount of turfgrass in the new design
- Develop a landscape that is safe for students to use 24/7 (walking paths and comfortable places to sit)
- Screen / buffer the large adjacent parking lots from view of the adjacent street
- Integrate public art as a seating element
The existing project site consisted of an approximately 650 feet long x 40 feet wide long parkway with an 8’ wide concrete sidewalk. There were no shrubs or planting beds existing in the area and little or no interest in the way of topography. The existing vegetation consisted of approximately a dozen shade trees and patches of thirsty turfgrass, worn down near the soil due to heavy foot traffic crossing over it daily. Several of the trees were dead or heavily diseased and in need of removal. Existing lighting was sufficient to provide a safe space during evening hours.
In response to the project goals and the existing site, the design solution preserves the sidewalk as the primary path while providing a smaller network of gravel paths that criss-cross diagonally through plantings of water-wise (natives and adapted non-natives) ornamental grasses and perennial flowering plants. The plantings are irrigated by drip tubing that is buried beneath a 2”-3” mulch of gravel. Decomposed granite was selected for its durability as a walking surface, its interesting crunchy texture, its ability to allow rain water to infiltrate and its earthy color. In large part, the diagonal sweeping orientation of the granite paths provides that feeling of “negative space” Susan mentions in her previous post.
(The 18th Street hell strip during construction)
One of the major challenges in this project was to successfully screen the parking lot while providing enough pedestrian paths. The solution is a combination of ornamental planting beds, gravel-covered berms and a minimal number of strategically placed shrubs and evergreen trees.
The second major challenge was to find a low cost ground cover alternative to turf that wouldn’t require a great deal of water or maintenance. The solution is the use of a slightly larger granite gravel material as a mulch over all the planting areas and the berms. The planting beds are placed in the foreground so as to claim the majority of your view when driving by or walking through the space and placement of the berms in the background (nearest the parking lot). The larger gravel is not as comfortable to walk through as it moves around under foot so it was used in hopes as a further deterrent to stray foot traffic.
Public art and landscape enhancements are combined in a lot of the work I do for the University. On this project, I collaborated with an artist, Barbara Grygutis from Tuscon, AZ. She was asked to create seating elements for the parkway area. Her idea of taking the blade of grass as an icon is represented by her two slender, curved seat walls. They are constructed of stone masonry and topped with polished granite seating caps. The granite caps are engraved with inspirational quotes. I corresponded around the seat walls with large sweeping beds of feather grass, crushed granite paths and a planting of flowering trees called Chitalpa that will grow large enough to provide shade.
(The mature hell strip in summer; notice students waiting for the bus in strategically placed shade.)
So, there is the designer’s statement #1… I’m looking forward to sharing ideas for Susan’s entry garden.