What would a fish do with a swing?

A park can be a picnic, a classroom, a home, a meeting, a workout, a date, a break, a pathway. A park is a location-tool for the person, or group of people, who needs it.

I ask you: what would a fish do with a swing?

How can the designer or builder know what tools something or someone needs without a careful period of empirical observation? Building a public space without anthropological research could be like giving a goldfish a swing set. A tool without a specific purpose is an inanimate object with an arbitrary existence.

So, how can Landscape Architects be Anthropologists?

Image from Gehl Architects

Gehl Architects, a company combining architecture with psychology, works internationally to create cities for people. Gehl recently launched a new survey tool called “Public Space and Public Life”. PSPL is a platform for collecting qualitative data, giving a voice to the public in the process of observation, and helping clients to engage the users of the city  to implement useful, sustainable changes that the public will benefit from. (Read more about this incredible platform and process here.)

Students studying Landscape Architecture at AAU implement their own observation experiments before creating their designs for a space.

As you can see, the LAN 660 (Designing Public Spaces Studio) students engage the community to determine which problems are necessary to solve from the perspective of the people already using the public space in question.

If someone asked you how your home street or front yard pathway could be improved, your experience and unique vantage point would provide you with a relevant, educated, and valid response.

Landscape architecture can build a useful pathway when sociology, anthropology, and psychology are all invited to the park.

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The Long Road to an Eco-Corridor

Bogota, Colombia

Written by:

Katerin LuquettaBFA Student at AAU School of Landscape Architecture

The conservation of biodiversity is now a movement around the world, and even though it still passes unnoticed in some places in the world, it is Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela who wanted to act upon preservation.

As temperatures rise faster than species take to adapt to them, Colombia proposed to its neighboring countries, Venezuela and Brazil, the creation of a green corridor to diminish the effects of climate change.

It was in the works, but as I kept digging I realized this news was as far as they got with this project.

The reason? There was one aspect besides the plant species and the wildlife that the project was not considering fully:

The indigenous groups of these tropical lands did not feel included in the project proposal process.

The corridor plan is not taking into account the illegal mining, deforestation, and hunting in the area, and the indigenous people who have preserved this land for centuries are waiting for these issues to be included. The conquest of the land by Spain and Portugal, (as England did in North America) left behind a careless approach to preservation of habitats in South America. Ultimately, landscape architecture is chosen as a career based on the design of outdoor spaces and landmarks in order to obtain an environmental outcome, but we know society and culture plays an enormous influence in decisions to be made.

Photo from National Geographic

As of 2015, the last update on this project was to continue discussion in order to agree on the final goals for the whole project. Two years have passed since the concept was supposedly presented, but now that there are so many social, political, and economic factors, the ecological factors on the table have taken a back seat.


Photo from National Geographic


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AAU Landscape Architecture Fall 2017 Speaker Series Presents: Marcel Wilson, Principal/Design Director, Bionic Landscape

Designs by Marcel Wilson

AAU School of Landscape Architecture is honored to host Marcel Wilson, PLA at our Speaker Series event at 6pm PT on November 9th, 2017.


Designs by Marcel Wilson

As Founder and Design Director at Bionic Landscape, Marcel has led and designed works of all scale in Asia, Europe, and here in the United States. Marcel obtained his MLA in Landscape Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His works are complex in texture and concept, integrating solutions that our environment and infrastructures increasingly require. He is arguably one of the essential pillars of this landscape architecture hub which is flourishing in San Francisco, California.

Please join us for the event either on campus at the Historic San Francisco Wharf’s Cannery (2801 Leavenworth, Suite 300) or enter the live stream on YouTube HERE.

**Remote viewers will also be included in the Q&A portion of the event.

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Landscape Architecture FA17 Online Town Hall Meeting: Nov. 7th at 2:30pm

Collaborate with your classmates and administration to improve your experience at Academy of Art University.

If you have any issues accessing the online meeting room, please contact the Online Help Desk:

See you all there!

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El Precio de Biofilia


Escrito por Káterin Luquetta

Estudiante en la AAU Escuela de Arquitectura del Paisaje

Después de la lectura anoche de Nahal Sohbati, presentando su proyecto ganador, Ridge Lane (estudiante de arquitectura de paisaje), el hipótesis de biofilia se presentó:

Biofilia: “… el sentido de conexión que tienen humanos con la naturaleza de carácter innato…”.

Ya que la naturaleza no es solamente selva, parte de la urbanización requiere traer la naturaleza a la ciudad. En otras palabras, vivir y admirar la naturaleza crea la oportunidad de ser parte de un proceso más grande en la evolución geográfica.

La gente se antoja intuitivamente los beneficios físicos y mentales que vienen con estar en la naturaleza. Por eso, los paisajistas añaden infraestructuras como bosques urbanos, calles verdes para sistemas de transporte y “techos verdes” para construir sitios dando conexiones personales con la naturaleza de una manera asequible y conveniente.

¿Pero, qué parques hay más allá de la ciudad?


Si una persona más acostumbrada a la ciudad visita a un parque nacional, sus rutinas diarias son interrumpidas y se sorprende. Mientras el mundo continúa urbanizándose, el acceso de experimentar a la naturaleza a toda gloria, en los parques nacionales grandes, se vuelve más importante. Visitar esas inspiraría incluso a los biofóbicos.

De todos modos, parques nacionales llevan precios. Aquí es el asunto complejo:

Parques nacionales necesitan renovaciones y los líderes quieren incrementar a los precios durante el temporal alta:

Mientras entiendo que “…los fondos serían utilizados [para renovaciones] …” creo que el billete de acceso para ‘America the Beautiful’ ya es un monto justo al que nos hemos acostumbrado y estamos dispuestos a invertir para el escenario total de la naturaleza.  De todos modos, el 23 de noviembre 2017, el periodo de comento cerrara y el aumento puede ser aplicada.

En el nombre de progreso, familias y grupos de afuera no podrían pagar por lo que deben ser sitios naturales inclusivos. Al aumentar precios para entrar en los parques nacionales durante temporales altos, la oportunidad de visitar reduciría y visitar parques nacionales convertiría en una actividad elitista.

La habilidad de conectar con la naturaleza ya es limitado, pero algunos creen que biofilia sigue viva.

Asi que, con esa aumentación de precio:

¿invertimos en visitar a esos monumentos de naturaleza, o solamente recurriremos a conectar con la naturaleza dentro de nuestras ciudades urbanas?





The Price of Biophilia

Written by Katerin Luquetta

Student at AAU School of Landscape Architecture

After last’s night’s lecture on the award winning project Ridge Lane by student of Landscape Architecture Nahal Sobahti, the hypothesis of biophilia was brought up:

Biophilia: “…humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature…”.

Since nature is not only wilderness, part of urbanization requires us to bring nature to the city. In other words, to live and revere nature creates the opportunity for human beings to be part of a bigger process in geographic evolution.

People intuitively crave the physical and mental benefits of being in nature. For this reason, landscape architects add infrastructure like urban forests, green streets for transportation systems, and green roofs to the built environment nourishing personal bonds with nature in an affordable and a convenient manner.

What about parks that are beyond the city?

If someone more accustomed to a city park visits a National Park, everyday routines are interrupted and they are amazed. As the world continues to urbanize, the access of experiencing nature at its best, in large National Parks, becomes even more important. Visiting these would amuse even the “Bio-phobic”.

Yet, National Parks come with a price. Here is the complex issue at hand:

National parks need upgrades and leaders are pushing to raise prices during peak season:

While I understand that “all of the funds would be used [for improvements]…,” I believe the access pass for ‘America the Beautiful’ is already a fair amount that we have gotten used to and are willing to invest on for full nature scenario. Nevertheless, on November 23rd, 2017, the comment period on the proposed fee rates will close and an increase in fees could be applied.

In the name of progress, families and outdoor groups would not be able to afford what should be intended as a shared natural space. By increasing entry fees of highly visited national parks on peak season, the opportunity for planned visits will be reduced and visiting national parks could become an elitist activity.

The ability to connect with nature today is already limited, but some believe biophilia is still alive.

So, with this price increase:

Will we still invest in visiting these landmarks, or will we resort only to connecting with nature within our urban cities?

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Seasonal Landscape Volunteer Opportunity

To be successful in this field, Landscape Architecture requires connecting to your community. How are you connected?



Landscape Architecture Instructor, Julie Trachtenberg, started a local garden in Richmond, CA in honor of a loved one. If you or anyone you know is interested in participating at this event this Saturday, November 11, 2017, please reach out to the @aaulandarch department administrator for support with transportation.


Happy planting!


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AAU Landscape Architecture Fall 2017 Speaker Series Presents: Kevin Conger, Founding Partner at CMG

Click HERE to livestream the event on your computer or phone!

Experienced in domestic and international design of all scales, this California licensed Landscape Architect is a founding partner of CMG Landscape Architecture. Kevin Conger graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and has since been part of many noticeable projects in the city of San Francisco.

Committed to connecting people with their environment and each other, as CEO and president, Kevin applies democracy of public space and ecological function with an artistic approach.

To name a few of the projects he’s worked on:

  • SFMOMA Rooftop Sculpture Garden, purposed to become an outdoor gallery with a simple and sophisticated attitude.

  • A ten year project with Yerba Buena Community District, which will create a bigger change in the long term by adding instead of remaking.
  • UCSF Institute of Regenerative, green roof and housing for native species and natural regeneration observation of ecological processes.

  • Brain Wash Plaza, a temporary parklet adding to more proper utilization of public space.

With tangible statements of his vision for the natural and urban world, while advocating for metropolitan life, Conger and the CMG team share their knowledge with student partnering programs.

Learn about CMG’s latest projects direct from the source at Kevin Conger’s lecture this Thursday, October 26th at 6pm PST at the School of Landscape Architecture. (2801 Leavenworth, suite 300).


Click HERE to live stream.


Article by: Katerin Luquetta, AAU Landscape Architecture BFA Student

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From Concept to Design: An Interview with MFA Student, Ritta

Ritta Lei Zichun has been in San Francisco now for 3 years, pursuing her dream of becoming a Landscape Architect.  After just 30 minutes with Ritta, I learned that she is eager, clear about her goals, and incredibly kind-hearted. She inspired me in the way she paused to answer questions honestly and how she leaned forward to express ideas with bright energy and a smile.

As Ritta begins her master’s thesis, we can all learn from her thought process and approach to design. Ritta created an active art alley out of the one-way street connecting Polk and Larkin, in SF’s Tenderloin District. Learn about her design process and get a brief glimpse into the landscape architecture mindset.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

An Interview with LAN MFA Student, Ritta

What made you choose the field of Landscape Architecture?

I just wrote a paper on this for my thesis project! In my country, China, city development is making us lose open space, green, and nature because we are focusing only on the economic and most of the land is being polluted—polluted air in China is very serious! So I chose landscape architecture to try to use my own skills to help rebuild our development. Maybe I can restore some outdoor area to reduce the pollution problem.

LAN 680: Site Planning and Sustainable Design Studio with Instructor Jeff McLane

Why did you choose the Tenderloin?


The San Francisco Planning Department wants to come up with some ideas to refresh this area. I worked with my instructor, [Director Jeff McLane] to choose Cedar Alley.

When I asked Ritta to tell me about her project, she “walked me through” the space, pointing and describing the areas from left to right:


The first area (left side) could provide different markets throughout the week: farmers market, art market, etc. Because of the context, being right next to an Indian culture center (Rigpa Center), the community could use that space to share their culture and thinking. The central area has a strong relationship with art [already] and I want to make the are in front of the pub full of paintings for a closed-space feeling. The pub could use it like an outdoor music plaza to attract more people to the site. Also, the sitting area could be used by the office nearby for outdoor lunch or to relax. The last space is available for Jane Coffee to have flexible seating outdoors, and the Chinese Grace Church could have space for any kind of big outdoor activity like, for example, sharing food for the homeless.

What was the biggest challenge?

I needed to find a strategy to slow down the traffic, to allow access for pedestrians and for cars to access doors and garages. I came up with this curve-strategy and also raised the street six inches up—a no-curb condition. This allows pedestrians to easily walk through the whole alley and makes drivers think before entering: [Ritta squints here to demonstrate a driver, hands grasping an imaginary steering wheel.] “Can I drive through? Oh I can, but I need to drive slow!” [Ritta and I both laugh.]

Finally, can you help us understand how a “concept” is used to create a design?

I think it depends on what kind of project. My concept is about providing an active art alley for [the people]. In a different project, an area might have another small culture or history which could make a specific idea come up.  For example, in one project near Yerba Buena Park, there was complex Jewish culture in the area, so I came up with a design using a Jewish symbol. But, in the end, [the symbol] is not very obvious. I think some ideas are hard to [translate] but the most important thing is what they can use in the design and how the designer can provide the people with what they need. Then, even if [the people] don’t understand the complex concept maybe they can learn [to appreciate the art in the concept] later through the landscape.


A note from the author:

I want to thank Ritta for spending time with me and for sharing her creative mind with our community. Please leave comments or questions for Ritta below and help us encourage her as she embarks on the daunting and exciting journey of creating her master’s thesis project.

By Kathryn M. Baldwin, LAN Administrator

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The Art of Places (Midterm Inspiration!)

Welcome to Midterms! Balancing homework, studying, sleeping, and eating as a student at The Academy does not only include coffee, books, and Microsoft Word. Art is not born from Red Bull, flash cards, and 6 hours of free time. AAU midterm projects must be inspired and revolutionized, balancing color, space, concept, medium, legibility.

To quote the famous impressionist painter Edgar Degas: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

So what keeps a landscape architecture student inspired during late nights, when the .3 fine line pens are dulling and the “Acacia” green trees start looking too similar to the “Acid Yellow” shrubbery? We’ve found the answer!

A recent article titled “Well-being enhanced more by places than objects,..”, explains how the emotional receptors in the brain are “fired up” when a person visits a place connected with memories. According to their studies, places provide feelings like “safety,” “belonging”, and even a sense of “magnetic pull”.  For example, swinging on the swing set at your family’s favorite childhood park could invoke much more emotion about your mom than holding a pair of her socks in your hand.

Landscape architects have the ability to create generations of emotion through memories created inside their art piece. So, if you’re an aspiring architect, if you’re out there revolutionizing landscapes, buildings, and rooms, remember the power your art has to change a person’s life path.

Finally, if an artist looks to invoke emotion, it could be argued that emotion is needed to create the art piece. The answer?

Dear Art Students,

Find the right place to work on your project. There’s a good chance the right place will inspire you even more than the Copic Sketch Marker in your hand.

On behalf of the AAU School of Landscape Architecture, good luck on your midterms!

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Is Landscape Architecture “Activism”?

Kate Orff, Landscape Architect, 2017 MacArthur Grant Fellow

Planning, in any event or art piece, requires multidimensional thinking. Landscape architecture allows the platform for professionals to widen the lens on a location, marrying the environment to the solution of all problems, while transporting into the future of design and materials. Solving problems becomes an opportunity to make advancements in science and to create change at the same time.

Kate Orff, 2017 recipient of the MacArthur Grant, says she came to this field in part because of “activism“. Kate says that her work constitutes as activism because it “inspires people to be involved and to create a more direct connection with the immediate environment.”

Let’s consider these consequences. What happens when people are inspired to interact with nature? If we gain a relationship with nature, through sustainable and creative designs in landscapes, is it possible that we would also choose innately to protect it? Could landscape architecture be the answer?

Read the Q&A with Kate Orff by PBS News Hour HERE and tell us what you think: is landscape architecture activism?

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