It is not every day that your team receives a national award from the American Society of Landscape Architects. But, today was that day and I feel very proud and honored. I am also very contemplative and reflective. These feelings are not only for the recognition of our work and the great comradery amongst our team; they encompass a deeper sense of honor for belonging to a larger profession of extremely intelligent, dedicated, creative and committed individuals.
Landscape architects are a group of people that care deeply about our earth and finding ways to remediate the tremendous damage our environment has endured. Our solutions look not only at the ecological impacts but also the social factors of environmental justice and even beyond that to re-establishing our lost spiritual connection to the natural elements and the mythological creatures that represent and live in nature.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Landscape Architecture Foundation Declaration. A group of landscape architects, including Ian McHarg, originally wrote the declaration as a desperate response to the environmental atrocities of the time. Fifty years later, leaders in the field of landscape architecture gathered to update that declaration with a new 21st century vision. It is a beautifully crafted one-page call to action for landscape architects in this age of complex environmental and cultural challenges. It is a document that fully resonates with my design manifesto. Its existence reveals how much we need this to unite us, rather than separate us in competition. We are a small group of like-minded individuals with a common goal; the time is now and we must work together to make significant policy changes if we want a good life on this earth for future generations.
This year, the ASLA conference was in New Orleans, Louisiana. Unlike previous conference locations, I felt very connected to New Orleans. Perhaps the power of being in such a magical place played a big role; the majestic Mississippi, incredible architecture, fantastic music, amazing food, warm and welcoming locals make it easy to feel connected and fall in love with the Crescent City. Mysticism is all around; it evaporates from the bayou and hangs out in the inescapable humidity, there is no option but to embrace and celebrate it. People mob and vandalize cemetery tombs to get the blessings of the voodoo priestess; play music in the streets that move you to unknown depths, celebrate Halloween with a very unique parade filled with dancing sirens, monsters and Elvis’; and create the most elaborate Halloween home displays I have ever seen. Spirit is so alive in New Orleans.
I knew New Orleans was a good place for contemplation, on my dreams that have come true, when I found a pearl in my oyster. The dream of having a landscape architecture firm with some of my best friends where we get to play and be creative and design gardens for children and bees together; the dream of presenting my ideas about places for grievance in the public right away and celebrating and honoring death, bringing spirit to our every day life; the dream of being recognized by our colleagues with an award for the work we are doing to take the parks and nature to under represented communities that need it most.
The BASE team converged at New Orleans for the conference, where we stayed at a wonderful and super funky crooked house in the Garden District. The house had the feeling of our beloved Pink House in West Berkeley (where BASE operated for over three years) bringing an element of comfort and nostalgia. Almost a year ago, Andreas left the Bay Area and moved to Portland. I miss him a lot and being able to spend this time with him in New Orleans was a beautiful gift. Together, we attended a presentation by Peter Walker and William Johnson. Pete was our neighbor at the Pink House; he was also the man who inspired and encouraged me to become a landscape architect. Fifteen years ago, when I first met Pete, I knew nothing about landscape architecture or who he was. He was incredibly generous with his time and took me out for lunch, he was also kind and extremely patient with me, and gave me great advice: become a landscape architect!. By example, he taught me a great lesson, always make time to people interested in the profession, teach and be a mentor. I will never forget that.
The key note presentation was a conversation between Pete and Bill sharing stories of how they met at Harvard School of Design, how they worked together throughout the years even as they lived in different states, how they always called each other for projects and creative advice. Pete ended the presentation with the dedication of his book “Peter Walker and Partners: Landscape Architecture-Defining the Craft” to Bill, his classmate, teacher, friend, and partner. I could not help but get teary-eyed and feel my heart sing with joy sitting next to Andreas, my classmate, teacher, friend, and partner. I know this is only the beginning of a long journey. I feel inspired by our profession and committed to always do the best work I can do, to stay involved and connected with other landscape architects, to keep learning, especially from the plants, and to share what I know and inspire the next generation. I feel honored to be a landscape architect and to have mother earth as my boss, like my dear professor Chip Sullivan says.
Life is beautiful and full of magic!