Mimicking Nature

I have been fascinated by the Fibonacci ratio, particularly since this pattern occurs so frequently in the natural world. Its proportions can be seen in the spacing of joints in the human fingers, the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, and the spiral of a nautilus shell, for example. The numerical sequence begins with 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and continues indefinitely – each number is the sum of the two previous numbers (as illustrated in the first image below). It can be theorized that many of these patterns have evolved for efficiency: to maximize the number of leaves, seeds, etc., that are exposed to sunlight. This ratio is also very pleasing to the eye, and has therefore been used in various types of design.
 
Landscape architects sometimes incorporate Fibonacci proportions in their projects through a variety of means, such as with pavement design, scaling of spaces, and object/plant groupings. In many cases, these designs have focused on numbers and rectilinear shapes, although the spiral has also been used in artistic ways. A couple examples of the rectilinear usage of this ratio include Dan Kiley’s design for NationsBank Plaza in Tampa, Florida; and Lawrence Halprin’s scheme of structural spaces at Riverbank Park, in Flint, Michigan. An example of a spiral design in the landscape is shown below (last image).

1 - Fibonacci sequence
The Fibonacci ratio and associated spiral

2 - Ammi visnaga or majus
A beautiful example of Fibonacci spirals in False Queen Anne’s Lace

3 - peacock
The “eyes” of the peafowl’s feathers spiral in toward the bird in Fibonacci proportions.

4 - Aloe polyphylla Schönland ex Pillans
Aloe polyphylla – Photo credit: J. Brew

5 - weaving - fibonacci sequence
Fibonacci numbers were used in this woven scarf to create a transition from one color to the next.

6 - handrail - fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci spiral in a railing detail

7 - The Core - Eden Project
The Core education center, Eden Project, in Cornwall, U.K., was designed using Fibonacci proportions and spirals. Photo credit: Pauline Eccles

8 - Spiral Fountain, Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia
Spiral Fountain in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia – Photo credit: Greg O’Beirne
 
All photos and images not credited otherwise were taken/created by Alice Webb. Photos by others were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

A Garden for All the Senses

Wickham Park in Manchester, Connecticut, includes a variety of themed gardens, the newest of which is a ¾-acre sensory garden. It’s a lush and peaceful place, with distinct spaces devoted to each of the senses. These types of gardens are very beneficial for people of all ages and abilities, gently stimulating the senses and serving as an educational tool.

This garden has a large variety of plantings, and is fully wheelchair-accessible. Pergolas and gateways separate each of the spaces – I particularly like those that are covered in vines. Although I might have designed this garden somewhat differently (perhaps with other types of seating and sculptures), I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit it.
 
A - sight garden
The sight garden contains colorful plants and a few with interesting shapes.
 
B - sound garden
The sound garden includes running water, wind chimes, and plants with leaves that tend to rustle in the wind.
 
C - scent garden
Plants with scented foliage and flowers are featured in the smell garden.
 
D - taste garden
A variety of edible plants and plant parts can be found in the taste garden, including vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
 
E - touch garden
Entry to the touch garden – this space features plants with various textures.
 
F - touch garden
Fine and coarse textures in the touch garden
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Site Furniture with Flair, Part 2

As a continuation of my original post on this subject, here are some unique outdoor seats that I’ve come across (both on location and online). It’s always a pleasure to see furnishings in the landscape that are custom-designed and out of the ordinary.

seat 1
Curvilinear series of stone/metal seats and bollards at the Federal Reserve Plaza in Boston – These also appear to serve as a security measure, keeping vehicles away from the building.

seat 2
Temporary installation in Boston (2013) – part of a series of art benches along the Fort Point Channel

seat 3
Wooden seat wall with attractive pattern in downtown Boston

seat 4
Tile seating in Rio de Los Angeles State Park, California. Photo credit: Laurie Avocado

seat 5
Double-sided bench designed by architect Zaha Hadid, located in the Dallas Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. Photo credit: Alfred Essa

seat 6
“Tourist Trap” – temporary seat in Belfast, Maine, 2014

seat 7
“The Greeter” – temporary seating in Belfast, Maine, 2014

seat 8
“Stumped” – temporary seating in Belfast, Maine, 2014
 
All photos not credited otherwise were taken by Alice Webb.
Photos by others were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Fort Lauderdale Wave Wall and Promenade

In the late 1980s, the beachfront of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was vastly transformed when the 2-mile-long Wave Wall and Promenade were built, in addition to the redesign of coastal Route A1A to include planted medians and bike lanes. This streetscape improvement project was designed by EDSA, a Florida-based landscape architecture firm. I visited the beach in April, and enjoyed my walks along this promenade. I was impressed not only by the design, but also by how well it has held up over the decades.

Ft. Lauderdale promenade 1

Ft. Lauderdale promenade 2

Ft. Lauderdale promenade 3

Ft. Lauderdale promenade 4
 
Photos by Alice Webb

Chinatown Park, Boston

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is a 15-acre linear urban space in downtown Boston, sited on land where Interstate 93 was previously located (now in a tunnel below). The greenway has been criticized for not being designed cohesively; however, the space should instead be considered as a series of disparate urban parks, each with its own merits.

One of the better-conceived spaces along this route is Chinatown Park, located at the southern end of the greenway. It was designed by Carol R. Johnson Associates, a Boston-based landscape architecture firm. The park is approximately three-quarter acre in size, and includes a curvilinear path with red sculptural features, a waterfall fountain and stream, plants native to Asia, and a plaza for festivals and other activities. China’s culture, history, and natural scenery are all represented by the park’s elements.

Chinatown Park 1
This bold, modern gate at the north entrance of the park is a counterpoint to the ornate, traditional Chinese gate to the south (shown in later photo). Red is a very popular color in China, representing good fortune and joy.

Chinatown Park 2
North park entrance – The sculpture in background is entitled “Zheng He’s Mizzen Sail”. The park’s pavement pattern symbolizes the scales of a dragon.

Chinatown Park 3
The waterfall fountain is composed of reclaimed seawall stones, acquired from a part of the Boston Harbor where many Chinese immigrants arrived.

Chinatown Park 4
Recirculating stream, flowing from the waterfall fountain

Chinatown Park 5
The park includes Peonies and many other plants of Asian origin.

Chinatown Park 6
“Bamboo curtains” at southern end of serpentine walkway

Chinatown Park 7
Plaza at southern end of park

Chinatown Park 8
The traditional Chinese gate can be seen at the south end of the plaza.
 
Photos by Alice Webb

A Green Roof Habitat

Green roofs have important environmental and economic benefits, which include reducing stormwater runoff, cooling urban air temperatures, improving air quality, and reducing energy usage in buildings. Another positive outcome that I hadn’t given much thought to, until this week, is the wildlife habitat that green roofs create. This roof (below) in Boston supports a nesting gull, standing over its brood of chicks. Who could ask for a better home, with such great views of the city and harbor?
 
Green Roof in Boston

Photo by Alice Webb

An “Urban Glade” in Miami Beach

The Lincoln Road pedestrian mall in Miami Beach includes a relatively new addition: a block of water gardens that evoke Florida’s Everglades. The site was designed by the landscape architecture firm of Raymond Jungles, Inc., and construction was completed in 2010. The surfaces of the water gardens are raised above the surrounding pavement, and include many native plants such as Bald Cypress, Red Mangrove, and Pond Apple. The biomorphic shapes of the gardens and seats are juxtaposed with the bold linear pattern of the surrounding pavement, creating an interesting combination of urban and natural themes.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 1
The gardens include a variety of plants that thrive in or near water, with an emphasis on native vegetation.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 2
Islands in the water gardens – these ones include large Bald Cypress trees. I’m guessing that the surrounding water somehow infiltrates the soil in the islands from below.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 3
A “dry” garden with Live Oak trees
 
Lincoln Road Mall 4
The gardens are raised above the surrounding pavement – some more than others.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 5
Mosaic surfacing forms bold stripes in the pavement.
 
Lincoln Road Mall 6
Water flows over this pond edge into a drain for recirculation.
  
Photos by Alice Webb

Miami Beach Soundscape

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

What is Landscape Architecture?

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?”

Think Spring (and Summer)

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