Landscape architects shift emphasis to the ecosystem

ABC: Landscape architects are finding themselves on the front lines of the climate change crisis, having to come up with creative ways to adapt and help mitigate problems like rising oceans and extreme weather as they design projects across the country.

“The focus on sustainability has been building slowly for a long time among landscape architects, but in recent years that commitment has really taken hold,” says Jacquelyn Bianchini, a spokeswoman at the Washington, D.C.--based American Society of Landscape Architects. She said those in the profession “have to deal with climate change more than almost any other design fields.”

Landscape architect Kate Orff heads the firm Scape, known for ecologically driven projects around the country. She feels a responsibility to take on projects that emphasize sustainability.

“Our profession has been working hand in hand with the carbon-driven world since the field’s inception. … We’ve been living in this world where we’re creating beautiful gardens in the foreground while the planet is collapsing in the background,” she says.

“My goal is to flip that relationship around so the focus is on ecological systems, and we then link what we do with policy ideas, and infrastructure to that reality,” says Orff, who recently became the first landscape architect awarded a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship.

She is the lead designer of a $60 million barrier reef and shoreline restoration project off Staten Island, New York, called Living Breakwaters. It incorporates oyster reefs, wetlands and strands to reduce the effects of storm surges. In Atlanta, it is developing a 100-mile trail linking communities along a vast distance to encourage mobility, equity and sustainability. Read more>>