Posts Tagged ‘ASLA’

Last week my copy of The Architect’s Newspaper arrived, and yesterday I sat down with it at the breakfast table and read through. Page three opened with an editorial (‘Why We Do City Work’) by Julie Iovine and William Menking about architects and the hurdles they face in competing for public projects in various cities.

The competition among American architects to get public projects started when the AIA was born, back in the late 1800s; it began as part of a drive to show off the talents of American architects. Construction was booming in the 1880s and 90s, and the AIA saw a need for solid architectural design of “post offices, custom houses, and other official buildings” being put up in the boom (this according to Andrew Saint, author of The Image of the Architect (Yale,1983). The results of this ’employ the architects’ effort are visible in cities all over the county, where architect-designed public buildings abound. (My grandfather, practicing in the first half of the 20th century, designed quite a few municipal buildings in and around Providence, RI, including all of the city’s branch libraries.)

With the current economic situation, and the federal stimulus money being parcelled out to states, and thence to municipalities, the AIA is now pushing again for architects to jump in and dish up a piece of the pie for themselves. This time, though, they want a much bigger piece. Iovine and Menking report that the AIA, at a UCLA-sponsored conference called WPA 2.0 next week (November 16), “will urge architects to “take back the streets” and along with them the public buildings, parks, bridges, and roads across the nation that are the most obvious symbols of true investment in the future.”

Are landscape architects listening? The AIA is gearing up to urge architects to push hard for contracts to design landscapes. Iovine and Menking applaud this direction, and assert that “architects must continue that good fight to bring their design perspective and social awareness to public works.”

Well. Do architects (educated and licensed to design buildings, some of which are truly atrocious), have a lock on decent design perspective and social awareness? I don’t think so. Do they understand the complexities of designing outdoor spaces? The architect-designed park that comes immediately to mind — Parc de la Villette, by Bernard Tschumi — was a exercise in postmodernism that apparently has great individual building elements and features, but whose a landscape lacks scale and comfort. Commodity, yes (it’s big!), but fitness and delight — perhaps not so much, if visitor reviews are any guide.

Conversely, do landscape architects, we who have been educated and licensed to design outdoor spaces, lack design perspective and social awareness? Again, I don’t think so. Do we understand the materials involved in shaping outdoor space? Do we aim for proportion, for usability, for integration and sustainability, for beauty and fitness and readability? It’s why we went into this profession in the first place.

Certainly it’s not possible to claim that no architect understands outdoor space, and every landscape architect makes great places — but our profession ought to be aware that the building designers, having a hard time finding billable work these days, are aiming to position themselves as qualified to do our work, both to increase their billability now and to ensure revenues when building-design biz slacks off in the future. It would behoove every landscape architect, and every LA professional organization (this means you, ASLA) to do what we can to ensure that our bailiwick — the intelligent, sensitive, and skillful design of outdoor spaces, both public and private — remain in the hands of those actually professionally qualified to do it.

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