Thursday, April 21, 2011

Flashback, 2009: landscape architect Olin observes, "We need to be at the table when people start planning" (Was this influenced by AY?)

In a 1/30/09 interview with with the American Society of Landscape Architects, distinguished landscape architect Laurie Olin talked about projects he'd worked on, including Canary Wharf in London, Columbus Circle in New York, and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.

He didn't talk of his work on the controversial Atlantic Yards project, which he had recently left. But an exchange regarding sustainability leaves a hint Olin was influenced by the controversy:
Q. How do you define sustainability in landscape architecture terms? How do you think landscape architects can gain recognition for their work, which often inherently deals in sustainability? What core ideas do you think will connect with the general public?

A. We've talked about that a lot in our office in the last few years. It seems kind of ironic because, as you say, landscape architects have been doing this as long as there have been landscape architects. Sustainability. We may be tired of the phrase, but it's what we are really, deep down inside, pretty much all about. We like to think that it's not just green roofs or nice building materials that endure and hold up. When we talk about sustainability, we talk about economics. We talk about the social realm. We talk about cultural support, use, utility. We talk about financial sustainability. We also talk about the environment. We talk about natural systems. We talk about materials. We talk about things like water endlessly; it's not just plants. It’s not green roofs, although we've done some of the grandest green roofs of any firm in the world.

...How can landscape architects get other people to understand that's how we think? I think to do more work, show it, talk about it, and invite people to see it. A lot has happened in the last ten years. People now have a sense of it that they didn't before. They know that we do that. We need to be at the table when people start planning. We need to be involved when people are doing site selection. We should be helping people say, "No, you shouldn't build there. This would be a better site." We have to get involved in a lot of the more troublesome planning decisions. We need to be involved in politics. Some of us have been political off and on, especially when we were young, but we got tired doing it. It's wearing. Each generation needs its ten years in the barrel fighting the politics when they have so much energy and altruism. People don't realize that landscape architecture is political. In a democracy it probably should be. We should debate about who suffers and gains, who gets what, what are the benefits, where are they, what's the cost. Those are things you'd hope in a democracy people would debate publicly.

The issues of sustainability: what does it mean? It means our ability to go on living on the planet collectively with a healthy planet and a society that isn't in trouble. Everything we can do with environment to shore up the society and keep it healthy. Anything we can do to try and protect the resources we have, especially the non-renewable resources like soil. Soil is renewable, but it takes eons. It's a conservation ethic that we need to yoke to our creative energy.
(Emphasis added)

Olin did defend his Atlantic Yards plan by claiming it responded to "the great need for large amounts of affordable housing with adjacent well-designed, environmentally-responsive public landscape."

But that public landscape, at best, was to arrive at the end of Phase 2, in ten years, rather than be significantly built first, as with his work at Battery Park City.

Perhaps Olin now reflects that getting involved in the planning might have staved off some of the controversy.

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