Landscape Operations

Landscape Operations

Tongva Park by James Corner Field Operations.
Courtesy James Corner Field Operations

An ongoing debate resurfaced at the


Of course, architecture is at its best when it encompasses both lines of thought—beautiful, inspiring solutions to relevant, urgent problems. But recently, architects seem to struggle to reconcile these differences.

In the realm of landscape architecture, however, these ambitions seem to be in harmony more than ever.

Landscapes are no longer simply beautiful complements to buildings or vague public social spaces. Designers and clients are activating landscape design to operate environmentally as flood barriers and water remediation zones, among other goals. Rebuild by Design harnessed this potential after Hurricane Sandy, and hopefully the proposals will come to fruition, as they are currently being moved forward by their respective governments now that HUD has stepped aside.

Landscape architects are also tasked with operating socially to create new public spaces, connect previously separated neighborhoods, and reclaim underused land in and around infrastructure, often in synch with other rebuilding and recovery efforts, such as waterfront development or neighborhood revitalization.

In our landscape feature, we profile some of the ways landscape plays out as a political agent in Detroit, where artists, activists, and farmers are using ecological planning  and landscape design to create a new kind of urbanism—one that provides green space and fresh food while promising a better city for future generations.

While landscapes are growing in size and scale, technology is being implemented successfully to plan and execute bold new landscape forms, such as the green swoops and concrete curves of Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line. Landscape architecture incorporates Rhino, Grasshopper, and even Arduino and advanced robotics, to give new life to green social spaces across the country. Invivia, a team from Cambridge, MA, was recently selected to build 99 White Balloons at Circle Acres Nature Preserve in Austin, Texas. The project utilizes movement sensors to activate the installation when people are nearby and a series of weather sensors to illuminate the installation according to temperature changes.

Technology is implemented on the front end of design, too. The Trust for Public Land’s Climate Smart Cities initiative, for example, aggregates layers of GIS data to make it easier for cities and designers to use in a graphic interface. The data allows users pinpoint the sites that will best match their ambitions for the city. In the other half of our landscape feature, we look at socially activated projects that marry design and urban politics by engaging the public through visual software and presentation.

As landscape design becomes more relevant and powerful in the urban sphere, perhaps architecture could learn a thing or two about how to get along?