Posts filed under ‘Landscape Architecture’
As part of its exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, the National Museum of African Art invited several African artists to do earthworks in the Smithsonian’s gardens. These are large sculpture works which use earth as material, motif, and/or message. One of these is ”Ala” by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui.
Ala is the Igbo goddess of earth, and is also associated with morality, fertility, and creativity. Although she is usually depicted as a voluptuous woman, El Anatsui has chosen shape and materials to allude to her powers. The pyramidal shape may be seen as emblematic of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt. But for El Anatsui it reflects the ubiquity of mounds of earth in West Africa. There are termite mounds, and mounds may be used to mark the entrance of villages, serving as posts or guardians for those who live there. In addition, there are crops [e.g., yams] that are planted in mounds of earth.
The materials that sheath the pyramid are trade objects that come from the earth. The metal plates are graters made from flattened, repurposed large cans or drums. These are punctured with nails, leaving sharp ridges that are used for grating. These graters are used primarily for processing cassava, which is a staple food that was imported into Africa from Brazil. Cassava — also known by other names such as yuca, garri, manioc, and tapioca— is a very hardy and multi-purpose food which can be prepared in many forms: it can be boiled, fried, mashed into a paste, and ground into a flour-like substance. Depending on how it is cooked and used, cassava can be a main dish, a side dish, dessert, and even bread. Cassava has a long history as a trade object: it was carried on ships going from the western hemisphere to Africa and traded for human lives. It thus served as a kind of currency, with most of the cargo left in Africa. But enough was kept on board to feed those being taken as slaves to the Americas. Cassava therefore has a very mixed legacy: it was both the source of the slaves’ misery and the means of their survival and sustenance.
The graters are interspersed with mirrors, which comes from silica and therefore from sand. In more formal terms, mirrors break up the shape, giving what the artist calls ‘buoyancy’ or lightness to the structure. In addition to being trade objects, mirrors are used in transportation to reflect where we’ve come from. For El Anatsui, these mirrors are a visual pun: they allude to the sankofa bird, which twists its neck to look back and is associated with a variety of Asante proverbs and meanings, including the following:
(1) It is never too late to turn around and start on a new path once one has recognized one’s mistake.
(2) Look at your past and you will recognize your future.
(3) You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve come from.
Combining different shapes, media, history, and metaphors, El Anatsui has created a tribute to Ala which brings her ‘down to earth’ and makes her accessible to many in a variety of ways.
-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian docent
Hello! My name is Sarah Gorney, and I was the Landscape Architecture Intern for the Smithsonian Gardens this summer. I am studying Landscape Architecture at Texas Tech University and will be a senior this fall. Despite attending school in Texas, I am actually from the DC Metro area, so it was great to be home for the summer! And even better was being able to work for the Smithsonian Gardens.
Before I get into some of the many projects I worked on, I’d like to share a small bit about Landscape Architecture. Many people I have run into have been confused as to what Landscape Architecture really is or what we do. Landscape Architecture is defined by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) as,
“…the analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of the natural and built environments. Types of projects include: Residential, parks and recreation, monuments, urban design, streetscapes and public spaces, transportation corridors and facilities, gardens and arboreta, security design, hospitality and resorts, institutional, academic campuses, therapeutic gardens, historic preservation and restoration, reclamation, conservation, corporate and commercial, landscape art and earth sculpture, interior landscapes, and more. Landscape architects have advanced education and professional training and are licensed in 50 states” (asla.org).
I am thrilled to be studying in a profession that is this diverse, and I was able to see all this in action at the Smithsonian Gardens.
This summer has truly been an amazing experience. Landscape Architecture is a synthesis between the built and natural environment, and the Smithsonian Gardens embody this concept to the fullest. Studying under this organization has allowed me to glean insight into an extremely successful set of on- going designs and what they entail; things such as what factors and issues impact design, the upkeep and daily maintenance of the grounds, cultural requirements, how the gardens relate to specific architecture or time periods, horticultural practices, sustainability, and storm water management.
My work this summer included projects for every museum at the Smithsonian, including the new National Museum of African American History and Culture slated to open in 2015. I worked on planting plans for multiple museums, coordinated with and prepared documents for professionals from multiple disciplines, completed square footage studies, updated AutoCAD plans for the new bike racks around the Mall, helped coordinate and create cost estimates, develop design concepts for the work and storage area at the Ripley Garden, put together plans for a grant proposal for a bird garden outside the National Museum of Natural History, and much more. I also developed design concepts for the re-design of the Alexander Calder sculpture area (the area outside of the National Museum of American History that used to house the Gwenfritz sculpture). The sculpture was relocated in 1983, but is now being re-installed in its original location on the west side of the museum. In addition, I have gone to more meetings than I can count with professionals all over the Smithsonian and was able to work one-on–one with my boss to really get a feel for what he does.
Getting to experience the issues, specifications, requirements, construction, and coordination that these projects entail has given me extremely valuable insight into the process of how a design is actually constructed. This knowledge will be integral as I grow as a Landscape Architect to design projects that are just as feasible to construct and functional as they are beautiful.
-Sarah Gorney, Summer 2013 Landscape Architecture Intern
We’re used to looking at Detroit as a symbol of economic collapse and decline, especially after the city filed for bankruptcy under the direction of a state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager in July. Factories, cars, and images of abandoned buildings remain powerful symbols of the city’s past and present. Yet often against the odds, generations of residents and city leaders have also imagined Detroit as a “green city.” Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s was one of the first environmental visions to imagine the landscape of Detroit as a space valuable for more than the products and byproducts of manufacturing and industry.
The project to turn Belle Isle, a long, narrow island of approximately 700 acres in the Detroit River into an urban park became official in 1879. After years of debate over the location of a large city park, members of Detroit’s Common Council voted to purchase the site from private owners for $200,000. As George Lothrop, chairman of the Detroit Park Commission wrote, this park was needed “alike for beauty and salubrity…the rich cannot afford to overlook a great popular need like this. In no way can they so well check the spread of communism and the growing hatred of poverty to wealth as by taking a hearty interest in every rational project for the promotion of the health, comfort and enjoyment of the people.” Lathrop and other advocates imagined a park might change relationships between classes by offering residents the opportunity to temporarily leave the city and experience a different kind of environment in relatively close proximity to their homes.
Situated upriver from the docks and disarray of Detroit’s downtown waterfront, Belle Isle had a long history of informal use by residents during the nineteenth century prior to becoming an intentionally designed park. Even so, the suitability of the site for a park was less than ideal. It was marshy, and nearly all of the areas were prone to becoming water-soaked or even completely submerged. When Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to transform the island into a park in 1881, he was not all too pleased with the site the city had selected. As Olmsted noted in one of his preliminary visits to the island,
Conditions could not be more favorable to the breeding and nursing of mosquitoes…the pools, in September, I found discolored, and covered by bubbles and a green scum; and there was putrescent organic matter on their borders. They are thus available to the propagation of typhoid, malarial, and other zymotic poisons; and it may be questioned whether the city is justified in allowing, not to say inviting, ignorant people and children to stray near them.
As it was, the island would require much thought and human labor to transform it into an intentionally designed, manicured, and managed city park.
Although a relatively minimalist design from an aesthetic standpoint, Olmsted’s carefully crafted plan sought to make Belle Isle a more pleasant place for residents of Detroit to enjoy the outdoors, while also preserving some of the island’s important natural features. It was complete with picturesque views of the surrounding landscape and city, walking paths, a grand promenade, fields for sports, and idyllic arched bridges over a network of gently curving canals, which assisted with drainage in addition to their use by canoeists. Until a bridge was built in the 1890s, visitors used ferry boats to reach the island park. Olmsted consolidated the ferry docks and major activity sites at the western end of the island. From the moment visitors stepped off the boat, they entered into a choreographed experience that took them from the more highly designed area of activities to the eastern end of the park that Olmsted left in a more natural appearance, including an old-growth forest that remains today.
Belle Isle Park quickly became the city’s most popular gathering spot for residents and visitors alike. In 1894 alone, some sixty one thousand persons patronized the bathhouses for the three months they were open. While Olmsted’s general design theme still remains relatively intact, the city gradually altered the park over time. To more directly advance an educational mission, the city built an aquarium and horticultural conservatory (both designed by Albert Kahn) in 1904. Now, in addition to the leisurely activities of the park, visitors could also learn about nature through curated displays of plants and aquatic life.
In line with the architectural design tastes of the City Beautiful Movement in the early twentieth century, a beaux-arts style fountain and gathering space designed by architect Cass Gilbert was added to the lower end of the island during the 1920s, which replaced Olmsted’s more organic design with one of rigid symmetry and geometric forms. Over the years, the city’s projects also increased the park’s landmass to its current size of some 985 acres.
When the city purchased Belle Isle in 1879, the swampy island may not have been the best suited place for a park. Yet through careful human design and continued use, generations of Detroiters transformed Belle Isle into an enduring piece of Detroit’s urban fabric despite the city’s rise and fall. Today, amidst the city’s precarious financial situation, non-profit organizations have partnered with the city to help maintain and preserve the park, which remains a popular spot for residents and visitors to the city today.
Although the park’s meaning, design, and use have changed since Olmsted’s time, and the city’s bankruptcy may change the park’s relationship to the city (plans in recent years have included leasing or selling the park to the State of Michigan, charging an entrance fee, and one individual who has proposed selling it to private developers), preserving the legacy of Belle Isle Park remains important to understanding the city’s past in addition to changing tastes and styles in landscape design. Belle Isle’s lasting significance in the present is a reminder that the historic, natural, and human resources that come together in the design of parks and gardens are key ingredients to sustaining Detroit and cities like it into the future.
- Joe Cialdella, Enid A. Haupt Fellow, Smithsonian Gardens.
Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist Janet Draper discusses the new living wall in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden:
For quite some time I have encountered numerous versions of vertical gardening, and I really wanted to create a vertical green wall for the Ripley Garden. I started checking out all of the numerous possible ways to create a living wall. Basically you can green any vertical green space if you just use a little creativity. I loved exploring all of the options because there were so many creative possibilities.
After exploring many methods, I ended choosing a system from Gro Vert that utilizes plastic cell trays specifically designed for green wall installations. The cell trays are about 2.5 inches deep with slanted dividers so that when installed upright, the soil stays in place.
I knew the completed wall was going to be in an area which receives full sun, so I chose perennial plants that are drought tolerant and can stand up to the heat of a DC summer. (See the plant list below.) I planted up the plug trays to create patterns with the various plants, and then let them get established horizontally before actually installing them vertically. This was a very important step in the process, otherwise much of the soil would have washed out with the first watering (or rain storm).
My Co-worker Rick Shilling assisted with the mechanics of installation, which involved attaching two-by-fours to the fence area where the wall was to be installed, then attaching ‘cleats’ (which came with the units) onto the two-by-fours. The metal brackets fit into a slot on the back side of the tray to hold the trays in place. Rick also secured the trays with long screws to ensure that they would not be knocked off the brackets. Ever resourceful, he utilized some bamboo screening scraps we had used for holiday decorations years ago to hide the mechanics. We then finished the process by attaching a water-holding vessel to the top of each tray to slowly drip water down to the plants.
The response from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive, with lots of inquires about the specific system I used, and questions as to its care and maintenance. I am still learning, but it is just like any other container plant. You need to check the watering frequently, especially the plants on the bottom half –the water from the top irrigators only makes it down so far, so supplemental water needs to be carefully delivered for the lower bits.
How will it do during the winter? We shall find out! But overall, I am very happy with it and hope to see other vertical gardens popping up around town.
-Janet Draper, Horticulturist
Plant list for the living wall:
Acorus g. ‘Oborozuki’
Carex conica ‘Snowline’
Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’
Dianthus grat. ‘Tiny Rubies’
Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Kyoto’
Sedum spurium ‘Ruby Mantel’
Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’
Smithsonian Gardens and Mitsitam Café Chef, Richard Hetzler continue their partnership to provide delicious, locally grown food in the National Museum of the American Indian Mitsitam Café. This year, we have expanded the crop growing space to include more plants than ever before by “jumping”onto the museum’s rooftop!
Two varieties of tomatoes, Cherokee Purple and Manyel, tower over their potted companions. New Mex Big Jim Peppers and Serranno Peppers are a dynamic duo that keep things spicy on the rooftop and in the cafe’s recipes. These two staples of summer can be married in a great salsa.
The leaves of an herb found in the containers, Hyptis suaveolens, commonly known as Chan in Latin American countries, can be used in a refreshing drink. Its minty aroma is sure to perk up any midday slump.
Also included in the containers is Tagetes lucida, an herb also known as Mexican Mint Marigold, Texas Tarragon and Yerbis Anis. The lemon colored flower is used in Day of the Dead celebrations and the leaves are used as a heat tolerate culinary substitute for French tarragon.
The beautiful orange blooms of Mexican Marigold (Tagetes erecta), native to Mexico and Central America, are dried and used in traditional Day of the Dead (November 2) celebrations. It is known as flor de muertos (flower of the dead.)
Amaranthus spp. ‘Hopi Red Dye’ is an annual with burgundy stems and maroon foliage. The edible black seeds can be ground to make a high protien flour. Young leaves can be eaten raw or steamed for a nutritious vegetable. Traditionally, Amaranthus is used by the Hopi Indians as a ceremonial dye used to make red cornbread.
Dysphania ambrosioides, espazote, is a small plant with lots of flavor. Commonly used to season bean dishes, epazote can also be used in chili, tamales, mole and enchiladas. Epazote is believed to cure flatulence, which is why it is often paired with beans.
The seed of Carthamus tinctorius or safflower is used to make culinary oil, yellow dyes and seasonings. Long utilized in textiles, dyes from Safflower has been found in the tombs of ancient Egypt!
Wyatt Carpenter, National Museum of the American Indian Horticulture Intern
The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), broke ground just a couple months ago and is progressing quickly towards its goal of opening its doors in 2015. The museum plans to become LEED-certified which is a rating system that helps identify and implement measurable green building design. The museum is right on track with its building requirements. Though LEED certification has become more and more common, there still is a distinct missing piece in the true sustainability of a building through the LEED certification system, however. Experts have determined that for a building to be truly sustainable, the rating system needs to consider its surrounding landscape.
In order to address this problem, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden partnered together in 2005 to come up with a solution to this missing component in LEED certification. These organizations collaborated with experts to address site design issues relating to soil, hydrology, vegetation, material selection, and human health and well-being to develop their own sustainable rating system on sites alone. This rating system is known as the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES for short.
SITES is a distinct and different rating system from LEED. SITES, like LEED, fosters the conservation of resources by promoting things like using recycled materials or solar energy, but it takes it to another level by going beyond the building’s exterior and rebuilding critical ecological capacity on sites. Sustainable buildings can only be truly ‘sustainable’ with healthy built landscapes. For example, a building using water captured on site or vegetation to reduce heating and cooling requirements can only happen with a built landscape design integrated into the building’s design.
NMAAHC will set out to secure both LEED building and SITES certifications. This is very exciting as currently there are only three SITES-certified projects in the U.S. If NMAAHC makes the cut it will set an example as an important landmark for site design across the nation by following the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
Liz Carroll, Landscape Architecture Intern
Yesterday, May 22, 2012 was the 25th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden–the Silver Anniversary. Fittingly, many silver plants grace this garden. One of the most striking is Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus.’ You may recognize it by its common name – Dusty Miller. But this isn’t any old common plant; the cultivar ‘Cirrus’ is big, bold and beautiful!
Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’ is an evergreen, usually grown as an annual, with toothed, silver-gray, felted leaves. The plant is actually a short-lived perennial and will act as such if grown in mild climates or in protected areas of the garden. It usually grows in a clump measuring approximately one foot by one foot. A small, button-shaped, yellow flower appears in the second year of growth.
The color silver acts as a great garden blender. An area filled with multiple, sometimes unrelated, colors can be made harmonious with the addition of silver. A mistake made by many gardeners is the belief that white is a color to use for blending multiple, uncomplimentary colors. White screams, it doesn’t blend. Silver saves many exuberant, multi-chromatic plantings from being garish.
Many silver plants have textures that add an interesting element to garden plantings; imagine the gravelly appearance of sedums and echeverias. Some add a strong, flinty look, while others have a powdery-blue appearance and of course there are the fuzzy gray leaves so common among herbs.
Silver plants reflect the light. When the sun is setting, silver foliage reflects the rosy sunsets and glow. And if the silver plant has a fuzzy texture, dew collects on the leaves in the morning. Not only are the individual hairs magnified, but the whole plant tends to sparkle in the early morning sunshine.
Many silver plants are sculptural; their strong, clean lines would be right at home in a museum of modern art.
Environmental concerns: The silver-grays enjoy really well-drained soil. Gardeners working with clay soils have to be careful where they site them. These plants also hate humidity. Sage always falters in mid-Atlantic summers – big sections die, making the plants look raggedy. Try planting herbs, such as sage, in soil amended with pea gravel or chicken grit. Consider planting lavender on a sharp slope and then mulch with gravel or chicken grit to prevent the crown of the plant from rotting. Be careful not to crowd silver plants since they need good air circulation to prevent die-back. You can hear all the silver foliaged plants breathe a collective sigh of relief when the humidity drops in the fall.
Design concerns: Take care not to overplant silver-foliaged plants. You really can have too much of a good thing. How many silver pillows do you really need in one garden? And if we have a really wet summer you have a collection of slimy, droopy, silver pillows in your garden.