November 14, 2016 | by Jay Courtney

As a designer, and person who thinks visually, I’m always finding myself being influenced by what I see around me. Often times, these cues come from natural landscapes; the beautiful seasonal colors and textures of a native plant community, the way that dappled light filters through the limbs on a majestic shade tree, and the tangled roots that are exposed on an eroded hiking trail.  I also find myself influenced by great landscape architects and the designs, plans, and structures that achieve environmental and aesthetic outcomes.

It is important to pull inspiration from this genre of stimuli, but none the less important to take influence from anything and everything around you in work and life. Recently, I was watching a documentary that was inspirational in it’s own right, and left me thinking about ways that I could apply it to my own professional work. This film was Before the Flood, a recent and very powerful documentary focusing on the issues and threats of climate change. The film opens (the first 2.5 minutes) with a scene of Leonardo DiCaprio describing a painting he stared at as a child by Hieronymus Bosch, the Garden of Earthly Delights.  He relates the painting and the evolution of its three panels from a pristine world to “twisted and decayed burnt landscape, a paradise that has been degraded and destroyed.”   This film and particularly this scene left a heavy impression on me, influencing me to take a hard look at what I can do and what the profession of landscape architecture can do to slow, mitigate, and possibly even halt and reverse the impacts of climate change that are currently occurring and worsening at an alarming rate.

No more is the day when landscape architects, purveyors of the exterior built environment, should put a purely aesthetic emphasis at the forefront of design in any setting. Landscape architects and designers should take a hard look at everything they are doing in terms of global impact and disturbance, considering at a greater degree things like what it took to make a certain material or resource, and where that resource or material came from- what environmental impact did it take to create or harvest that material? There is no reason why a landscape or urban design cannot be sensitive to this notion and at the same time serve as a great design in form and function. Reclaimed, rapidly renewable, re-purposed, re-cycled, and regional materials can be used in a plethora of creative ways to design timeless and long-lasting spaces and landscapes.  This same notion applies to design in terms of planting design and selection. Beautiful spaces and forms can come to fruition by selecting micro climate, native, adaptive and water appropriate plantings.  Landscape has the power of contributing many beneficial favors to the environment such as cleaning air and water, creating habitat, and cutting energy demands.

We as landscape architects and designers have an obligation to do what we can to help combat climate change, and fortunately for us, we are in a position where we can be major contributors to the regeneration and enhancement of ecological environments rather than contributors to its degradation.


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