Monday, November 9, 2009

Doug Reed at Lewis Ginter

On October 28th, Douglas Reed, FASLA, gave the keynote presentation at the Charles F. Gillette Forum at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia. Reed is a nationally known landscape architect and a principal of Reed Hilderbrand Associates in Watertown, Massachusetts. Reed has won many awards including the ASLA's President Award of Excellence for the Therapeutic Garden at the Institute for Child and Adolescent Development in Wellesley (now destroyed!). Reed believes that the designed landscape is one of our most potent forms of communication and works to preserve that language as a board member and co-chair of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.  One of the foundations recent projects is the 'What's Out There' website.  
The topic for this year's forum was Timeless Design in a Sustainable World.  Reed opened the two day event with his talk Situating the Green Landscape Design Phenomenon: A Personal Perspective. The talk focused on three concepts that have guided his design work: modernism, environmentalism, and preservation.  Reed began by talking about his early training as a landscape architect.  When Reed graduated from Louisiana State University in 1978, the landscape program was under the leadership of Robert Wright, who integrated landscape history and preservation with design.  AT LSU, regionalism became an important concept for Reed and one of the key works for him was the Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Mississippi, designed by Edward L. Blake, ASLA.  The arboretum was completed in 1980 and is well known for the Picayune Pavilion, designed by E. Fay Jones.  Reed described how the landscape plan for the arboretum, with its several distinct natural areas, created a dramatic narrative about the southern landscape.  A year after leaving LSU, Reed entered the MLA program at Harvard.  At the time, the department was headed by Peter Walker, FASLA, who brought an emphasis on minimalism, design and art theory to the program (ecology didn't figure as prominently in the curriculum as it does now, Reed said). 

Reed gave a more detailed look at his practice the following morning with his talk Treading Lightly On The Land: Case Studies Of Reed Hilderbrand's Projects.  He showed many beautiful projects, and discussed ways in which sustainability, history, and modern design figured into their design and construction.  All the works exhibited Reed Hildebrands sleek, contemporary style, which is made warm and approachable through elements like native plants and vernacular stonework.  There were too many projects to go into much detail here, but I'll give a few brief descriptions:
Private Residence with Knolls
This residence was dominated by four large knolls scattered across the site.  Reed's firm had to convince the clients and the architect not to build on the highest point (a fairly common impulse), thus preserving it's character.  The knolls are planted as meadows, contrasting with the geometry of the adjacent gardens.
Baton Rouge International School
Early site investigation revealed the connection of the site's existing pond and lowland woods with Lake Pontchartrain, about 40 miles away.  The school responded strongly to this connection, so the circulation of water has become the basis of the site design.
Central Wharf Plaza 
With this small oasis of trees planted within the densely urban city, Reed Hildebrand tried to create a model for city demonstrating the best way to plant trees and avoid the fate of the 10 year lifespan.  The  combination of drains, irrigation and structural soil are proving to be very successful.
Two other projects revealed Reed's process of editing the landscape:
Mary Baker Eddy Memorial
The memorial site in Mount Auburn cemetery had been compromised by new plantings that were added over the years.  The church tried to emphasize the memorial by adding plantings around it, but had ended up isolating it instead.  A large part of the project was removing overgrown trees and shrubs to reveal the intent of the original design.
The Clark Art Institute 
The Clark Institute featured a collection pastoral landscape paintings, potentially reflected in the surrounding hills of Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Reed Hilderbrand's design recovered the connection to the landscape by removing the overgrown plantings.

Later on the second day, a small group of landscape professionals gathered for an informal chat with Reed.  This was a bit of a flashback for me—Reed was a visiting professor during my last year in the MLA program at the University of Virginia. 
During the discussion, Reed again turned to his life in Louisiana.  He talked a bit about childhood experiences on his mother's farm, and described how he became interested in landscape architecture though a high school career week (if only I had such a clear sense of purpose at that age!). Though he's been a Northeasterner for many years now, it was clear that the rural landscape still has great importance for him.  In fact, part of the reason Reed bought the site of his new house was partly because of its resemblance to the Louisiana landscape he fondly remembered.   
The property is on the site of an old gravel quarry along the Westport River, and has a large area of meadow, something Reed had always wanted.  It was great to hear him talk about his personal experiences designing his own landscape, clearing parts of the property and finding the hummocks, spoils, and perched water tables that were left by the old quarry operation.  He also gave an interesting preview of some of the things he had in store for the property.  
We also talked in more detail about how sustainability was integrated into Reed's practice and some of the projects we had seen earlier that day.  Part of Reed's philosophy of sustainability is the judicious use of resources. One small example Reed mentioned was his work on the Christian Science Plaza in Boston.  Originally, some of the trees there had been pollarded, but in Reed's redesign the trees were allowed to regain their natural character, so they no longer required time and resource intensive maintenance. 
Maintenance came up several times in the discussion. One of the people in the group was a gardener for a property outside of Charlottesville, and shared her experiences caring for a large landscape. Reed agreed that maintenance was an important consideration that was often overlooked and mentioned one of his own projects that was almost unrecognizable after just two years of neglect.  He also said maintenance issues could provide 'serendipitous' opportunities for other people to make contributions to a design.  As an example he talked about how at his own home he was having difficulty managing a particularly aggressive goldenrod in his meadow. After unsuccessfully trying to control it with herbicide, a local farmer suggested that he might control it through mowing.  This lower impact approach has proved very successful and the meadow now contains a higher diversity of plants.
At the end the session, Reed was asked what he would like to see happen in landscape architecture over the next 10 years.  Reed said he would like to see stronger leadership by landscape architects taking a generalist approach to project design and site development.  Reed pointed out that many other professions are eager to claim the landscape for themselves, so our profession needs to communicate its skills more effectively.  In his own practice, Reed has seen greater possibilities than ever before for shaping clients programs and creating more opportunities for bringing ecological issues to the forefront. 

For more information on this year's Gillette Forum, see my posts on Thomas Woltz and The Nature of Cities.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you have a fabulous blog with many great photos. Thanks so much for the detailed report on The Gillette Forum and you post on The Nature of Cities.

Gail said...

This was a good read~Treading Lightly on the land is a practice I would love to see embraced in my community!

I looked back a few posts and saw your delightful post on the buckeyes...They are wonderful shrubs and trees. gail

colewhitelaw said...

be very, very wary of using zoo manure in your
garden. it contains many pathogens that aren't
necessarily destroyed by composting and can lead
to serious human illnesses. i speak from
experience and would never, ever use it again.
also, many wood products are treated with poison,
not what i want to use as mulch in my organic

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