US jamboree celebrates buoyant market and thoughtful design

Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre
US jamboree celebrates buoyant market and thoughtful design

Between 5,000 and 6,000 attendees were absorbed into Rafael Viñoly’s vast, airport-like Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, writes Tim Waterman. More than 500 exhibitors filled the Center’s main hall, and four days of panels and excursions brought together a selection of landscape architecture’s luminaries from the US along with a few international presences.

Though events were scheduled throughout the day on Friday 15 November, the official opening of the Expo was at 8am on Saturday morning. With rock group Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ providing a stadium feel, ASLA President Thomas R. Tavella bounded onto the stage to deliver a largely positive message about landscape architecture in America. He highlighted the importance of green infrastructure, sustainable futures, and the need for landscape architects to lead project teams. The overarching theme of ‘gaining ground’ allowed him to talk about how landscape architects had held their own during the recession, and to say that now the profession is emerging stronger than ever.

Keynote speakers were Jack Dangermond, founder of ESRI, who showcased GIS cloud technology and an exciting new app that will allow GIS documents to be shared easily, and Stephen R. Kellert, who spoke about biophilia and design for human wellness. Kellert’s presentation was a disappointment; his message about our human relationship with nature was one that leading landscape architectural theorists such as Elizabeth Meyer have long ago presented with a much greater degree of sophistication and eloquence. This is but a small gripe, however, as across the four days of panels a truly inspiring range of projects was displayed and explained.

What was evident from the work happening in the US was a strong sense of confidence and a keen  understanding of landscape architecture’s ecological and human role. Gone almost totally were the highly sculptural landscapes and bling which abounded before the recession, and instead much work was shown that gained incredible power from thoughtful, ecological work with water, biodiversity, agriculture, and communities.

A real highlight was a panel entitled ‘Beauty and Performance’, that included discussion of some breathtaking projects, including Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona, Mikyoung Kim’s Cheongyecheon stream in Seoul, Korea, and Nelson Byrd Woltz’s Orongo Station  in Poverty Bay, New Zealand. Each showed an inspiring balance between ecological function, rich aesthetics, and human activity and meaning.

Another notable session was a panel with Laurie Olin, Warren T. Byrd, and Michael Vergason on the importance of hand drawing. “For me drawing is a version of thinking out loud,” said Laurie Olin. With such fine work on display, it was hard not to agree that landscape architecture is indeed ‘gaining ground’.

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