ASLA 2013 Meeting | growing confidence and learning


Over 5,000 people attended Gaining Ground, the recent ASLA Annual Meeting & Expo in Boston. The meeting gave the impression that the landscape industry in the USA has turned a corner and is heading into 2014 with a sense of confidence with a touch of mild trepidation. The ASLA Meeting and Expo allows attendees to gain insights and learning on a wide variety of topics in areas of design, technology, business, combined with an Expo that showcases a wide variety of products. The event also provides the opportunity to catch up with friends and make new ones with casual chats and discussions often extending into the night over dinner or a drink.

When you first receive your event guide and you start flicking through the vast array of topics, it dawns on you that it will be impossible to get to all your favourite or planned topics, but its also at that point you realise that you have a great opportunity to select a presentation that is not something you would normally attend. Different topics open yourself up to new directions and possibilities and this was true of What’s Next for Landscape Architecture in Africa, which opened my eyes to the possibilities of landscape architecture in various countries across a continent of 1 billion people. Suzanne Jackson allowed us to see some of the great work that is occurring in South Africa. Hitesh Mehta gave a impassioned presentation about how landscape architecture history books need to be rewritten to include African landscape architecture that can be seen as the beginning of landscape architecture. Arthur Adeya showed us the power of landscape  within a community and introducing the ideas of recycling as a business to power the economy of communities.

Next, I stopped by Cloud Computing Professional Practice which showed us the technologies that can power collaborations between numerous small landscape architecture firms, but also inter-disciplinary teams that are not in the same city or even on the same continent. Cloud Technology and collaboration tools allows landscape architects to be able to now create teams that best fit the project. Although it can be hard to convince clients of the power of the cloud.

Later that day I headed off to the University of Pennsylvania 100 year celebration of their landscape program which allowed for some interesting discussions about landscape and its future. You can read more about this on my previous blog post.

The next day began with Food for Thought: Productive Landscapes in the Public Realm, which took an interesting look at urban agriculture and community participation. Presenters such as David Rubin gave interesting pointers including that when landscape architects meet with mayors and government officials we need to make the point that landscape projects offers the best return on investment and effects more people and stakeholders than architecture projects. Claire Baker and Luisa Oliveira let us see the power of education and how food deserts in urban areas can be eliminated with urban agricultural projects and education.

The Small Business Roundtable allowed attendees to hear about how the presenters firms dealt with the past few years of economic crisis and how they survived through unforeseen layoffs, project cancellations and now how they faced growing their firms. The panel discussion also made it clear that no matter how hard you try to avoid structure it is enviable when dealing with people who wished to be recognised, given responsibility and feel that they are contributing to the firm as a whole.

Moving into Sunday, Kongjian Yu, Anthony Fettes and Michael Grove gave their insights into the Changing landscape profession in China and how they are creating projects that have a softer touch and going against the general trend of highly manicured landscape. However, they did all agree that maintenance and understanding natural systems still requires vast improvement in China.

One of the many Green Infrastructure presentations included Green Infrastructure: a landscape approach with Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, David Rouse and Mia Lehrer. The panel presented projects that allowed attendees to understand how green infrastructure at a regional scale (such as the Los Angeles River) can greatly benefit the surrounding communities. Green Infrastructure is not only about creating a greenway or revitalising river corridor; it also allows landscape architects to create multi-functional, resilient landscapes that provide identity for the region, city and neighbourhood.


Although, there are many presentations, events and opportunities to connect, there is also time to visit the Expo which has grown steadily over the years with suppliers from across the globe. There is numerous sized stands with a wide variety of products from the high-end urban furniture and playground equipment to your regional tree nursery and smaller vendors displaying high quality pots. The general trend seems to be towards more elegant and light-weight designs whilst using technology and materials to achieve beautiful products. Also, there is a vast amount of landscape technology from tree structures to irrigation to new application software.

Monday, the final day when you feel invigorated that you have learnt so much only to realise this is the last day. The final day actually provided the my greatest insight of the event during Planting: Unlocking Creativity through new avenues of Designer/Grower collaboration with Michael Van Valkenburgh, Edmund Hollander, Chet Halka and Theodore Kiefer. I realised that as landscape architects we need to collaborate more with consultants and suppliers to create a open communication channels that allow for a free exchange of information. Although, you may think this is a simple idea that you often undertake, but I implore you to truly grow your relationship with your suppliers and exchange information on the performance of their product in your projects in the following months and years. Without the exchange of knowledge we are not learning and improving the profession and landscape industry to the next level.

Attending presentations is only part of attending the ASLA meeting; catching up with friends or having conversations over coffee allowed me to understand how Kim Mathews and Signe Nielsen (Mathews Nielsen) worked through the financial crisis and now have concerns about how to hire new talented team members when so many professionals left the profession during the crisis, or how Daniel Tal (Mr.Sketchup as I like to call him) and Andrew Spiering (Land 8) see the industry changing. Meeting people and having discussion is a major part of why we attend events and more should be done to foster this communication.

Attending any conference also allows you to asses what you have learnt and what changes you need to make to improve your firm or career. During my time in Boston, I learnt a great deal about the landscape and reinforced how varied and wide spread our profession is across the world.

Its almost 2014 and time to plan the year ahead and I already have the November 21–24 for ASLA 2014 in Denver set aside. Thanks to everyone at ASLA 2013 who connected online or in the halls and I am looking forward to meeting more people next year.

Text & Image Credit |  Damian Holmes

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