The Pearl Brewery features a small, pocket park in its public plaza.
The Pearl Brewery features a small, pocket park in its public plaza. Credit: Courtesy / Rialto Studio

April is World Landscape Architecture Month and San Antonio’s landscape architects are joining in the celebration by posting images of their favorite designed spaces.

Search for social media posts tagged #WLAM2017 and scores of photos can be found from around the world marked with a green box noting “This is Landscape Architecture.” Last year, Landscape Architects uploaded more than 5,000 images onto social media platforms, reaching more than 4 million people, all to promote the profession and connect the term “landscape architecture” with the spaces that everyone enjoys.

The profession is a big deal. Landscape architects play a large role in shaping the future of our city. With the stroke of a pencil, landscape architects can morph the shape of any place or space, from the Alamo Master Plan to a neighborhood park. Full disclosure: I am a landscape architect and know intimately how vital the profession is to our community.

According to the state licensing board the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners, San Antonio is home to 81 registered and emeritus landscape architects, a responsible number given the size of our city. Austin touts a dozen more than our fine city. A landscape architect, also known as a professional landscape architect or PLA, takes an oath to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the public. Like an architect, a landscape architect must pass a rigorous licensing exam and complete ongoing education requirements to maintain licensure.

Municipal building permits typically require the seal and attention of a landscape architect and without them one must wonder how much of our local and native natural treasures would be lost. Our work is everywhere – the River Walk, trails, streetscapes, museums, parks, highway right of ways, playgrounds, campuses, golf course, even military installations. Our profession is vast, scalable, and worthy of notice. Patrick Sisson, a contributor to real-estate blog network Curbed Magazine, proposed that “landscape architects are the urban designers of tomorrow. Landscape architecture is fast becoming a centerpiece, not just a facet, of urban design.”

In the midst of World Landscape Architecture Month, I had a chance to reach out to a handful of my colleagues and ask them one question: “As a landscape architect, how do you shape your community?”

“Landscape architects are uniquely educated to influence and shape the community of the future. We share our knowledge of constantly changing technology with design teams, clients, and school groups ranging from elementary schools to universities,” said landscape architect Bobby Eichholz, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Texas chapter president and partner at Rialto Studio. “By being environmental stewards, we strive to protect sensitive ecosystems and preserve precious resources through innovative site planning, lighting, appropriate planting, and water conserving irrigation design.”

Architects tour the Sunken Gardens in Brackenridge Park.
Landscape architects tour the Sunken Gardens in Brackenridge Park.

Sarah Tucker, landscape architect and president of the South Texas ASLA, told me of her passion to serve the community through design.

“I shape my community directly through the types of projects I focus on: parks, trails, schools, streets, and the like. I try to make safe, enjoyable, and beautiful spaces that benefit people of all ages and abilities,” Tucker said. “Families get to enjoy the hike and bike trails and parks I helped design. Children go to school and play on playgrounds I helped create. And everyone can walk around downtown and enjoy the trees, planting, and lighting I helped implement. The spaces I help create directly affect the health and well- being of the thousands of people who use and live near them.”

Tucker is with the CFZ Group, a firm whose design focus incorporates the disciplines of ecological awareness, artistic talent, and engineering knowledge into the development of each project while striving for a true sense of place.

“It’s my impression that many landscape architects shape their community through the design of landscapes using plant materials,” said John Laffoon, landscape architect and owner of Laffoon Associates. “I feel another valuable way landscape architects can contribute to their community is by volunteering to serve on public or private boards and commissions. Since most people seem to believe landscape architects only deal with planting design, it’s beneficial to participate in these groups to educate the public about the wide variety of services that can be provided by landscape architects, such as hardscape design, irrigation design, site planning, ground surface manipulation, etc., as well as serving the community.

“During my career, it has been my privilege to serve on several boards and commissions including The San Antonio Fine Arts Commission, The Ad-Hoc River Walk Task Force, The Austin Highway Revitalization Project, The Terrell Heights Neighborhood Association, The Texas Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects, The San Antonio Conservation Society and the San Antonio Historic and Design Review Commission,” Laffoon continued. “It has been very rewarding”.

John S. Troy, landscape architect and owner of his own firm, is an award-winning designer of residential projects that preserve and enhance the natural beauty of our environment. Troy has been a long-time member serving on the board of the San Antonio Botanical Garden as an energetic voice promoting education and serving the community. Last year John was recognized by the Texas Society of Landscape Architects with a Community Service Award.

Site and landscaping plan for the San Antonio Botanical Garden expansion. Rendering courtesy the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
Site and landscaping plan for the San Antonio Botanical Garden expansion.

“The quality of life in San Antonio is truly enriched by a wealth of outdoor spaces designed by many landscape architects. One of those places, the San Antonio Botanical Garden, offers a myriad of experiences to connect people with the world of plants,” he said. “Today the Garden is expanding to include an outdoor kitchen with companion Culinary Gardens, a 2.5-acre Family Adventure Garden for all to play with nature and rain catchment gardens. Scheduled to open in October 2017, the brand-new areas designed by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects will entertain, engage, and educate visitors of all ages in environmental stewardship.”

Larry Clark, landscape architect and co-owner of Bender Wells Clark Design, works tirelessly shaping our city.

“As landscape architects and planners we get to work alongside a lot of great people to shape our community. Our approach stresses interaction and exchange – a joint effort with the people who live in the communities we serve, and with other experts,” Clark said. “Cities need healthy places for people to get outside, to gather, relax, exercise, or play. We think that designing and making healthy environments for people includes nature, biodiversity, clean water, better streets, limited use of resources – including water and energy – beauty and sustainability.

“Design is very much like art, but also involves science, technology, and an understanding of the history of a place,” Clark continued. “Our design response and creative process strives for an aesthetic confluence of people, nature, culture, and the built environment.”

The trailhead at Leon Creek Trail is an example of landscape architecture.

“Our firm, Bender Wells Clark Design, works on a wide range of projects from parks to city planning to urban plazas and streetscape or large commercial centers,” Clark said. “Each project is different. We love to help with the creation of play and recreation areas, for example. We sometimes are the lead design professionals: such as on Pearsall Park, where an abandoned landfill was recently transformed from a ‘dump to a destination’ with highly-technical solutions for soils, groundwater, and structures. Or as the local landscape architects working alongside MIG, a California-based design firm in the creation of Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair, helping to find innovative solutions utilizing local materials, history, art, and culture. Some of our work is easy to recognize, like a Greenway Trail, street corridor, a plaza, wayfinding or water capture and re-use, while other things we design look totally wild such as a meadow or hillside. Our goals are typically to provide excellent and sustainable design features for a given site, and to push the boundaries a bit.”

“We are also downtown property owners and strongly committed to this community,” he continued. “The old building we bought and restored into the Bender Wells Clark Design office property is next to the historic Alamo acequia and within a five-minute walk of the river. We enjoy the history, culture, and context of this place we call San Antonio.”

The splash pad at Pearsall Park is an example of landscape architecture.
The splash pad at Pearsall Park is an example of landscape architecture.

Jake Aalfs, a landscape architect with the San Antonio River Authority said that he educates his community “on how low impact development methods benefit the San Antonio River by reducing local flooding and treating stormwater runoff. … As part of the [River Authority’s] Stormwater Team, I manage projects to promote low impact development. The Watershed Wise grant and rebate provide funds to design and install low impact development features. In addition, I provide education and design consultation on LID to developers, designers, architects, and engineers.”

Please join the photo call and share your favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with #WLAM2017. To participate, take a picture of the space with a card titled “This is Landscape Architecture,” which can be downloaded here.

To learn more about the profession of landscape architecture, please visit the American Society of Landscape Architects website. You also can follow the group on Twitter (@landarchitects), Pinterest (landarchitects), and Instagram (landscapearch).

Desiree Salmon

Desiree Salmon is a landscape architect and land planner at THW Design San Antonio, an interdisciplinary architectural firm celebrating 60 years of delivering people driven design. She is a mother of three...