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Adjacent to the New World Center building (home of the New World Symphony) in south Miami Beach is an interesting park that was designed by the Dutch landscape architecture firm, West 8, and built though a private-public partnership. This 2.5-acre green space’s primary function is to serve as a venue for the public to watch symphony concerts, movies, and video art projected on a large blank wall of the building, all free of charge. Those events, however, take place in just one section of the park; the rest of the space mainly consists of crisscrossing walkways, long seat walls, and groves of palm trees.
 

I visited during a pleasant spring day on a Friday afternoon, and the park was somewhat deserted – I wonder if it gets more use on the weekends and during lunch time. I found the space to be unique and attractive in its design, but lacking in features and daytime activities that would tend to attract more people.

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 1
The park entrances are accentuated by these sculptural structures with Bougainvillea growing in the centers.

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 2
Lawn and projection wall

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 3
The park includes lots of shady areas for relaxation.

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 4
Seat walls throughout the park include attached stones – an attractive accent, but also functional, since they would tend to keep homeless people from sleeping on the walls and deter skateboarding along the edges. I don’t know if these were the intentions of the designers and client, but it makes sense to me.

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 5
Angular walkways cut through groves of palms and traverse the undulating topography, giving the park a sculptural quality.

 

Miami Beach Soundscape 6
The New World Center is seen through the trees – the lack of low vegetation allows for sight lines across most of the park.

 

Photos by Alice Webb

I’m often hesitant to tell people that I’m a landscape architect, and it’s not because I have anything to hide – it’s due to the misconception that comes with the title. People tend to hear the word “landscape” and ignore the “architect” that follows. Reactions often range from “you should look at my yard” to “winter must be your slow season”.  I tend to cringe at most responses, but politely try to explain what I do. I think that removing the word “landscape” from the title and substituting it with something else, such as “site”, would do a lot to avoid confusion, but our professional association isn’t about to alter a name used since the 1800s. We therefore need to keep educating the public about landscape architecture – I’m attempting to do my part with this post and with my blog in general.
 

In the meantime, I have started to tell people that I’m a type of architect that designs outdoor spaces. I then let them know that we are called landscape architects but our work isn’t limited to planting design, and that the vast majority of us do not perform any construction or installation. I also let them know that all 50 U.S. states require licensure for landscape architects, due to our impact on the public’s health, safety, and welfare.
 

Landscape architecture is a very broad field. The scale of work can range from very small spaces to entire regions, and the scope of design and planning can also vary widely. Examples of landscape architectural projects can include parks/recreation sites and facilities; streetscapes and other urban spaces; green infrastructure/storm water management; office and commercial sites; academic and corporate campuses; housing developments; hotel facilities and resorts; residential properties; green roofs; landscape art and earth sculpture; hospital grounds and therapeutic gardens; historic preservation; environmental restoration; transportation corridors and facilities; and urban/regional planning.
 

A landscape architect’s design work often begins with analysis of an existing site, followed by the design of schematic plans for the property. We later design and produce construction drawings and specifications, which contractors will follow to build/install our designs. Our construction drawings typically include, at minimum, the layout and specification of site features (such as walkways, parking areas, structures, and athletic facilities); grading and storm drainage design; a planting plan; and construction detailing.
 

I find it ironic that a profession having such a large and beneficial impact on the public is so misunderstood. I hope that significant progress is made to dispel its myths before too long. It would be nice to tell people that I’m a landscape architect and typically get responses like this: “Great – What types of projects do you design?”

This is the time of year (in New England, as least) that many of us are really longing for warmer weather, tired of shoveling snow and otherwise being secluded indoors. The following images (from my garden in spring and summer) should provide some welcome relief from the bleakness of winter:

 

Barren Strawberry
Barren Strawberry

 

Chives in bloom
Chives in Bloom

 

Cranesbills (True Geraniums)
Cranesbills (True Geraniums)

 

Crocus
Crocus

 

Fritillary butterfly on Boneset
Boneset with Fritillary Butterfly

 

Goat's Beard
Goat’s Beard with Hostas

 

Japanese Iris
Japanese Iris

 

Lace-cap Hydrangea
Lace-cap Hydrangea

 

New growth - variegated Andromeda
New Growth on Variegated Andromeda

 

Red Admiral on Enkianthus
Red Velvet Enkianthus with Red Admiral Butterfly

 

Variegated Solomon's Seal
Variegated Solomon’s Seal

 

Violets
Violets in the Lawn

 

Photos by Alice Webb

I’ve encountered a variety of interesting art pieces in landscape settings ranging from urban to natural. Some are in parks and nature preserves, others are along city streets and alleys, and a few are in small town centers. Some integrate visually and thematically with their surroundings, and others stand alone. Below are a few favorites.

 

1 - Art on the High Line 1
Cut-outs in a small panel (viewed through a scope) on New York City’s High Line transform this view of buildings into abstract shapes.

 

2 - Art on the High Line 2
More art on the High Line: A modernistic wire structure with houses and seed/fruit trays for birds and insects seems to represent the intersection of city and nature, as does much of the High Line. A similar structure faces the opposite direction on the other side of the walkway.

 

3 - Garden in the Woods
These transparent facial profiles at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, appear to symbolize the connection between people and nature.

 

4 - MSU art museum
Juxtaposition of “natural” and built forms – Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University in East Lansing

 

5 - Felice Varini - New Haven
Painted optical illusion in New Haven, Connecticut, by Felice Varini – this shape is only visible when one stands at a specific point. As one progresses further down the alley, it no longer appears as four circles within a square.

 

6 - Cambridge granite sculpture
Sculpture composed of various types of stone in Cambridge, Massachusetts

 

7 - Sculpture in Eastport ME
Granite sculpture in Eastport, Maine – a town whose principal industry is commercial fishing

 

8 - CityGarden bas-relief
Bas-relief piece in CityGarden – a sculpture park in St. Louis, Missouri

 

9 - Sculpture in Montreal
A deep discussion taking place in Montreal, Quebec

 

10 - Belfast ME bench
Colorful bench in Belfast, Maine

 

11 - SLCH healing garden
Whimsical piece in the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital

 

See also Public Art in Outdoor Spaces (Part 1)

Photos by Alice Webb

Starting in the 1950s and extending into the ‘70s, playground design took a creative turn, away from the galvanized steel structures of yore. Instead of specifying manufactured pieces, designers began to customize entire play areas. Concrete, brick, and other hard materials were used extensively. Several playgrounds built in this style can be found in Central Park, New York City, (photos below). Some of these have been upgraded, maintaining the integrity of the original designs, while complying with today’s safety standards. I like the sculptural qualities and connectivity of the climbers and other features, in addition to the water play areas incorporated in several of the playgrounds. However, I found the spaces to be rather cold and drab in appearance. In my opinion, interspersing some low- and mid-sized plant materials throughout these playgrounds, (not just along the perimeters), would turn them into more inviting spaces and add play value to the sites.

 

1 - Ancient Playground A
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

2 - Ancient Playground B
Ancient Playground in Central Park, NYC, next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

3 - Adventure Playground A
Adventure Playground in Central Park, NYC

 

4 - Adventure Playground B
Water play in the Adventure Playground

 

5 - Adventure Playground C
Water play in the Adventure Playground

 

6 - Heckscher Playground A
Hecksher Playground in Central Park, NYC

 

7 - Heckscher Playground B
Hecksher Playground in Central Park (water play section)

 

Photos by Alice Webb

Columbus Circle 1

 

The central islands of most traffic circles in the U.S. are just planted areas, at best, with no consideration for public use. To be fair, the majority are either too small or in areas with too little pedestrian activity to work well as park spaces. Columbus Circle in New York City, however, has neither of these limitations. It also has the benefit of traffic signals at its three crosswalks/entrances. This century-old site underwent a major transformation in 2005, when a barren traffic island with a tall monument to Christopher Columbus was reshaped and expanded into a much larger circular park. It’s truly an oasis in the city, where traffic noise is muffled by the sound of the fountains that border the pedestrian space, and groups of trees along the perimeter provide some visual separation from the surroundings.

 

Columbus Circle 2
View toward Columbus Circle’s central monument

 

Columbus Circle 3
Long, wide benches arc around the perimeter of the central plaza.

 

Columbus Circle 4
Terraced plant beds form the circle’s boundary.

 

Columbus Circle 5
One of three entrances into the circle

 

Photos by Alice Webb

Since I was only able to photograph the space from the ground and in daylight hours during a brief visit to the city, here are links to two sites with impressive photos from above, showing the entire circle during the day and also at night:

Columbus Circle in daylight
Columbus Circle at night

While visiting Montreal recently, I came across a number of public spaces with attractively-patterned pavement, many combining various types of stone. My favorite was Place d’Armes, which was renovated in recent years, but other fine examples are shown below as well.

 

Montreal plazas 1
Place d’Armes, in Old Montreal, includes smooth granite pavers in various shades of gray, interspersed with stripes of pinkish cobles. The custom-designed tree gates coordinate well with the coble patterns.

 

Montreal plazas 2
The cobbles in the streets surrounding Place d’Armes are repeated in random stripes within the perimeter of the plaza.

 

Montreal plazas 3
The large, central, open area of the Place d’Armes includes gray granite pavers punctuated by these pink ones sporting fleurs-de-lis.

 

Montreal plazas 4
The renovated Square Dorchester includes pavers with a range of textures. The smoothest ones shine both during day and evening, giving the walkways a glittery appearance.

 

Montreal plazas 5
Intermittent crosses in the pavement at Square Dorchester, formed with rough-textured pavers, signify the historic use of this space as a burying ground.

 

Montreal plazas 6
Stripes of colored concrete pavers in various hues and sizes at Place Ville Marie

 

Montreal plazas 7
Metal drainage grates serve nicely as linear accents in this park next to Montreal’s convention center.

 

Montreal plazas 8
An attractive pattern of concrete pavers and tree grates

 

Montreal plazas 9
Strips of white pavers repeat the linear pattern of water jets in the Place des Festivals.

Photos by Alice Webb

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