Green trends and Landscape Design

Nick Flachsbart, Landscape Design

Nicholas Flachsbart design

What’s trending in your field in terms of design?

Right now a big trend in landscape architecture is the incorporation of green infrastructure for, mostly, large buildings. From high rise office buildings to classrooms and apartments of nearly any size, a green roof may create an outdoor social environment for its occupants while also acting as a climate controlling device and greatly reducing water runoff.
Though this area of the field is focusing upon private space, and is geared toward an engineering standpoint, I find it enormously critical for helping the general public to understand how dynamic the field is. Where people would often confuse landscape architecture with horticulture or simply landscaping, they are now seeing more consciously and carefully designed green spaces where it is highly unexpected, and beginning realize the social and cultural impact of the field.

How are models used in the design process?

Landscape architects use models for a whole number of reasons and purposes. A preliminary model may be built during the design process in order to analyze spatial creation. It is extremely crucial to produce these models because it brings any design flaws to your attention, which are often overlooked on a two dimensional drawing that lacks depth. I find more abstract models to be the most effective during the design process because it gives you a chance to explore different materials and mediums. For instance, where foam may be the best representation for trees in one design, metal wiring may be more appropriate in another. One may study the layout of a site by layering chipboard to fit the contours of the topography, allowing them to walk themselves over hills, through valleys, across bridges or along a shoreline. You could perhaps use a model to discover or manipulate different view-sheds you want users of the landscape to have. That is, you may want to block a view of a river until one reaches a certain point along the curvature of a path – and now you are creating a more intellectual experience for that person.
In short, there is no limit to how and why a model may be used. A good landscape architect will design with models, and of course to show a client your design, a model can make or break their decision to use it. Today, many models are done via computer programming, but the more sophisticated and large scale design firms seem to be more likely to build a final, physical rendering to show a client
Where do you see the intersection of fine art & landscape design?
I don’t believe that the idea of fine art is something that can simply drift in and out of landscape architecture. They are interwoven into something that is both expressive and practical. High Modernism of landscape architecture suggests even that it is fine art. Many people consider architecture to be fine art if it displays a great concern for aesthetic qualities, even though an architect must consider structural engineering into their work. Similarly, landscape architects juggle the principals of design as well as civil engineering, yet people seem extremely reluctant to call it fine art. Personally, I do not believe that the field fits in as a traditional fine art, but instead uses the same theories to create pieces of work much more literal than the method by which it was conceived.
 

Which artists have inspired you?

Environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have probably been my biggest influence as an undergraduate student in the field. Known best for the Running Fence project in northern California and The Gates in Central Park (images attached), they have redefined the idea of art for me. British artist, Andy Goldsworthy has definitely been, and continued to be, a great source of inspiration for me as well, beginning when I watched the documentary Rivers and Tides. What both artists have in common is the temporary nature of their work. What is most beautiful to me is that an artist can have the selflessness to create a work of art that is not in a museum or gallery, but instead ceases to exist after a few weeks or even hours after completion.

 

What are the most common design mistakes?

It seems to me that most design mistakes in the field root from a misunderstanding of the goal of taking on a project. I have made all of these mistakes, often more than once, and I’m sure with more to come. The first and biggest design mistake is to compete with surrounding architecture. Because most projects have structures in the vicinity, a designer will become offended by ostentatious buildings and thus try to place more importance on the landscape with great amounts of hardscape and materials (excessive concrete, granite, marble, wood, walls, lighting, exotic plantings, water features…etc) in space that does not benefit from such.
Another common mistake is to design for yourself. One cannot simply conjure up a design they like and use it where ever they wish. A landscape is a living, breathing, and dynamic palate that changes on a daily basis, and thus the design of a landscape is inherent in nature. The question is not how you want to design the land, but how the land wants to be designed.
Thirdly, it is very typical of landscape architect students (as most mistakes are made before becoming a professional, but certainly not all) is to overestimate the power of landscape elements as space definers. What I mean is, when attempting spatial creation in a design in plan view (from above, on paper), it may appear that a row of trees and light posts will define an edge. Yet, if you’ve ever walked along a path that has a tree every 20 feet and a light post between each pair of trees, you’ll know how weak that edge truly is. However, using topography for instance, we can build up a 7 foot high hill at a very steep slope along a path and define the edge quite well because we cannot see over it. One must understand what a point is, how we turn that point into a line, the line into a plane, and the plane into volume.

What tips would you give to people who might consider pursuing this field?

Do not let people discourage you. The truth is, most people have no idea what landscape architecture is – and even the first year studying in the field may not be enough to understand it. Read books about the subject, as it can be very motivational. Be sure you love the artistic and technical aspect of it, because a pretty drawing of a landscape means nothing if it you don’t know how it will be built, and designing commercial parking lots limits expressive opportunity

Which organizations would you recommend to people who want to learn more?

The most important organization in the field (in the U.S.) is the American Society of Landscape Architects, which has an enormous amount of information on what we do. Theirs is the official organization from which a graduate and experienced (2 yrs minimum) junior landscape architect can receive their license after a series of exams. Another great way to learn about the field is to simply google search, “(city of your choice) landscape architecture” and see what firms come up. Click on their link and read through their design philosophy and check out their portfolios.
Nick Flachsbart is a seventh semester student of Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut.
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