ASLA 2011 Annual Expo

Monday October 31, 2011

Landscape Resource is covering the ASLA 2011 Meeting and Expo in San Diego from October 30-Nov 2.  The annual meeting has drawn over 5,000 members of the American Society of Landscape Architects and offers 150+ education seminars ranging from water harvesting trends to “Inside the LA studio” presentations by award-winning landscape architects such as Martha Schwartz, professional and student award ceremonies, field sessions, and Expo with 430+ exhibitors.  The current theme of the ASLA, “Landscape Architecture Rising”, is well-timed as landscape architects are increasingly becoming the “primary placemakers in the 21st Century”, according to famed architect Julian Smith.

We are here at the Expo in San Diego and the the excitement for the event and the profession is palpable.  It is clear the same attention for detail integral to the profession has been translated to the organization of the event.  Landscape Resource will bring you the highlights from the education sessions as well as noteworthy products and services from the Expo.


ASLA 2011 Annual Meeting and Expo:  Day One

Education Session:  Harvesting Onsite Water Sources for Sustainable Irrigation
John Bauer, Wahaso
James Davis, ASLA, Landtech Irrigation Consultants
Mark Coopersmith, ET Water

In a city that receives a vast amount of its potable water from the dwindling Colorado River, the harvesting of onsite water for re-use as irrigation or greywater is becoming more than a trend.  And according to Mark Coopersmith, ET Water, this isn’t a trend unique to the arid west as at least 36 states predict water shortages by 2013 and many others have already implemented stringent water conservation regulations.  Part of the solution, the presenters claim, is the integration of water harvesting systems for all levels of development, ranging from the single-family resident to multi-story buildings.  

In the landscape industry, the assumed source of potential “capturable” water is stormwater.  However, there are additional sources that are not normally considered such as greywater, cooling and steam condensate, water filtration systems by-products that can add up to sizable volumes of water that can be re-used for irrigation, or re-introduced into the building for a variety of uses such as toilet-flushing water.

Bauer highlighted the processes required to capture, store, clean, finish, and distribute the harvested water for re-use in a large scale application, whether it be for a school or commercial development.  Although the process is complex and capital intensive, there is an achievable return-on-investment in an attractive timeframe and even more so in an era of increasing water costs.

Coopersworth then described how his company, ET Water, efficiently distributes water (whether it is potable or captured) to the landscape.  This is accomplished with a state-of-the-art irrigation controller that leverages evapotranspiration data (historical), forecasted weather data, and other local site inputs such as rain sensors.  To achieve the 30-50% reduction in water usage their controllers claim to achieve, the user must enter a landscape profile which takes into effect site conditions of each irrigation zone (soil type, exposure, plant type, etc.).  This information is then crunched in the “web cloud” and daily irrigation schedules are wirelessly transmitted to the smart controller for implementation.

ET Water has also made its technology available to the public free of charge through a website:  This site allows users to enter their location and  landscape profile to obtain a customized irrigation schedule for their use.

Davis, of Midwest-based Landtech Irrigation Consultants, rounded out the discussion with his helpful suggestions for a water-smart “irrigation palette” (great term!).  His list includes drip irrigation, low-volume sprinkler heads (rotary), pressure regulating valves, pumping stations with VFD configurations, weather-based controllers, and of course, rain sensors.  Utilizing all or some of these components in your landscape, along with proper design, installation, and maintenance, Davis asserts, is the most-efficient way to irrigate a landscape.


Education Session:  Rethinking Substantial Completion:  Alternative Approaches to Post-Planting Care
Eric Kramer, ASLA, Reed Hilderbrand
Kelby Frite, Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories
James Sottilo, Ecological Landscape Management
Robert Whitman, ASLA, Gould Evans

“How can you measure success in the landscape?”

A continual challenge the landscape design community faces is that intended designs often are never fully realized because subpar maintenance stifles the evolution of young, immature landscapes.  In these cases, the odds are stacked against the tender landscape:  improper irrigation, poor pruning, absent care, unattended soil issues, and on and on.  What may have had the potential of becoming an award-winning or notable landscape simply fail in the first few years of existence.  

To the delight of the audience, this panel ably discussed both the metrics and goals of post-planting care.  Kelby Frite first highlighted the different techniques for monitoring the preparation of sites and care for new landscapes with a baseline derived from measurable soil and plant characteristics.  In general, landscape professionals are familiar with some of these characteristics but others would likely be new terms.  Familiar measurements derived from standard soil tests are the more familiar concepts (bulk density/compaction, soil texture, soil chemistry, available soil moisture, etc.) while more obsure characteristics such as chlorophyll florescence, chlorophyll concentration, and soil microbiology (measuring the living components of the soil) are equally important.  By establishing the metrics for these different categories, handoff from the construction phase to the maintenance phase and beyond may be accompanied by valuable, objective hard data.

Sottilo, a veteran to the landscape trade, has used a similar model in countless high-profile projects, namely on the East Coast including the High Line, where failure of plant material was simply not an option.  Due to the high cost of the select projects he elaborated on, his company’s services were rolled into the up-front capital costs of the project and added a tremendous value to the project with a minimal dollar per square foot investment.


General Session Tuesday:  How Do We Shape the New American City
Host John King, San Francisco Chronicle design critic
Honorable Maurice Cox, University of Virginia
Laurie Olin, FASLA
Charles Waldheim, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Martha Schwartz, ASLA, Martha Schwartz Partners

As “placemakers of the future”, landscape architects are poised to help lead the re-shaping of the fabric of our cities.  For decades, the suburbia-focused model has prevailed with planners and urbanists driving populations from city centers into de-centralized communities.  The soft underbelly of this concept was long flagged by landscape architects and other progressive designers, but the cracking of an inflated housing bubble was all it took to illustrate the underlying dysfunctional issues to the greater population.  Overextended utilities and social isolation are now driving population back to cities where the demand for a re-imagined cityscape and landscape beckon the professional talents of the landscape architecture community and other forward-thinkers.

Participating in a discussion of urbanism in landscape, the esteemed panel initially shared their views on what is different in the current trends of landscape urbanism.  To Olin, nothing and everything was new.  More specifically, the newness was a subtle shift in a point of view and a re-contextualization of existing elements.  What is old is that projects are being re-framed in an old language.  For example, the Rails to Trails program has long existed without much national notoriety but the recently completed High Line Park project in NYC has essentially brought the elements of the program to center stage.

To Schwartz, what’s new is the realization of globalization and that resources are finite, drawing attention the necessity of healthy cities.  When designed for the needs of the people, cities are a necessary part of the greater solution.

In Cox’s optimistic view, there are thousands of potential “High Lines” throughout the nation waiting to be developed for the specific needs of each city.  When done to satisfy the needs of a particular community, a similar result of economic and social value will result.  The difficulty in this is identifying underused locations and programming them for the benefit of all.  This, says Cox, is exactly where landscape architects find themselves to be great influencers of change.

One of the most interesting aspects to this discussion, according to Waldheim, is that in incredibly successful city projects such as the High Line and Millennium Park in Chicago, the efforts have been primarily spearheaded and envisioned by designers and community advocacy as opposed to city planners / development agencies.  This correlation is enough to give Waldheim pause to question the validity of current avenues for development projects in our cities.  Furthermore, Waldheim adds later, is that planners have long acted as “protectors” of our communities in response to the sins of the past modernist movement.  In his view, designers now have the skills and ideas to feel emboldened to reclaim their position as placemakers in our communities and cities.

In addition to difficulties of existing red-tape for the re-development of our cities, in Schwartz’s view, is the conservative (not necessarily politically referenced) nature of most Americans.  This realization of Schwartz’s comes from her practice oversees which has given her an interesting lens to view the status quo.  Designers anticipate and envision the future, and the US on the whole is not necessarily ready to look into the future because by doing so, you first need to be critical of the present, which is a difficult task for many.

Best summing up the motivating conversation shortly and succinctly, Olin stated that all the work landscape architects do must be about Community, not the Individual.  If this goal is met, it brings people together which is the first step in community building, and in many ways, the community healing of our past development errors.