Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance

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Atlanta Garden Design

The Parc in Use

Posted by Sam Valentine on July 29, 2018 at 6:20 PM



Image: Daniel Vorndran


With the high drama of waterfalls, craggy bluffs, and a cliff-top temple, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont could be confused with a theme park. Perhaps the artificial rock faces and the faux-bois contribute to this impression, but it is important to remember that the Parc has no carnival rides and no admission tickets. It is a park for all people.


On the summer day of my visit, the population of the park stood in clear contrast to the city's more talked-about landscapes. The Parc du Champ-de-Mars, Jardin des Tuileries, and Parc de la Villette were chock-full of park visitors, but between these people's palpable fervor and their clicking cameras, it was clear that a large proportion of them were tourists. In Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, on the other hand, the majority of people appeared to be locals. The neighborhoods on all sides of the Parc seem to spill into the landscape.



Images: Sam Valentine, Magdalena Gonzalez, and L'imaGiraphe


As a landscape architect, it is enthralling to see how parks are used. While it is clearly part of the job description to scrutinize topographic design, planting selection, and craftsmanship of such things as stonework, there is more to the story. What could be thought of as a layer atop the permanent, physical landscape is the human activity, or "social life," of a place. At Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, I saw quiet, intimate conversations on park benches, looping joggers and walkers, and children excitedly playing in the small rivulets.



Image: L'ima Giraphe


Near the end of my expedition, I came across a wildly successful lawn on the south side of the Parc. Like Sheep Meadow in Central Park, this was a sunny, broad, and flat space full of picnickers.




O.K.




Image: L'ima Giraphe (modified)


I lied about the "flat" part. Tilted at what feels like a 45° incline, the lawn's topography is not typically the stuff of well-visited public landscapes. (I have trued the above image - the tree trunks are vertical.)


Image: Sam Valentine


As I scaled the lawn with my friend, also a landscape architect, we speculated why so many of the visitors were sitting at the top. It was puzzling, with plenty of open space downhill, why the park users would choose to crowd themselves in one place. The physical attributes of the landscape sprang to the front of my mind. Was the lawn drier at the crest of the hill? Is access easier because of a nearby road?



Image: Vladimir Prohorenko (modified)


Well, most readers know the disappointment -- whether at a baseball game or on an airplane -- of finding a seat with an obstructed view. The crest of this lawn puts viewers above the canopies of the Parc trees. Only after reaching the top of this hill did it become obvious that this social phenomenon was all about views.



Image: Jérôme Baudet

Light and Shadow in the Tuileries Garden

Posted by Sam Valentine on February 25, 2018 at 5:15 PM


Images: Bertrand Guay and Sam Jacob


One of the best demonstrations of dueling Parisian light and shadow can be found at the Tuileries Garden just west of the Louvre Museum. In basic terms, the Tuileries is a simple but successful composition of tree plantations over a carpet of stonedust.



Images: Gianni Dagli Orti/Corbis and Sam Valentine


The history of the Tuileries is far more complicated than a visitor might detect. Before it was a garden it was a blackened ruin; prior to that it was a glistening palace for emperors and kings.


On the sunny summer day when I visited, as the stonedust crunched satisfyingly beneath my feet, I noticed that the allées and gridded bosques read like a diagram of where to sit and where to walk. Benches are evenly distributed through the grounds, but I observed only the tree-shaded seating drew people to lounge, socialize, and bring together family-style picnics. Meanwhile, hedged by strong allées, the wide, exposed promenades remained clear for strolling.



Images: Mr. Renart and Sam Valentine


The most fascinating moments of light and shadow occurred around the Tuileries' lawn quadrangles. Situated like glades in the gridded forest, these brightly illuminated rectangles of turf drew visitors right up to their edges. Even with the lawns bereft of action (ropes were standing guard), park users of all ages had situated themselves around these lawns in true theater-in-the-round style.



Images: Sam Jacob


The Tuileries Garden is a place of both expanse and intimacy, and even on a cloudy day, the landscape would be worth writing home about. On a sunny day, however, it becomes a compelling study in both visual contrast and the importance of microclimates to visitor comfort. With an onslaught of summer sun, the simple layout of trees projects order, structure, contrast, and thematic emphasis into the garden.



Image: Sam Valentine

Second Glances in Budapest

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 30, 2017 at 4:45 PM

It may already be obvious to the reader that I have an admiration for works of art and landscape that are deceptively simple or, sometimes, simply deceptive.



Image: Maria Eu


In Budapest, Hungary, one of the city's most recognizable structures, Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd), was built at the end of the 19th century as a link between the towns of Buda and Pest. Today, as a visitor walks along the Danube River, the bridge beckons with its striking composition of elegance and muscle, in equal parts. Like the Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges in New York City, the swooping sinew of Liberty Bridge promises chain- or cable-suspension, but when one gets up close, crossing by streetcar or shoe, the structure is all rivets and iron plates.



Image: Patricia Barden and Peter Velthoen


The deceiving nature of Liberty Bridge serves as an allegory of the Budapest I encountered while visiting for a few days last summer. The city calls you to take a closer look at its design and detailing, and what you find is a rewarding revelation. About two miles north of the Bridge, a very different place is also best understood at second glance.

 


Images: Sam Jacob and Sam Valentine


Wrapping the eastern face of the Hungarian Parliament Building, Kossuth Lajos tér is an expansive public garden square. Having been recently renovated from an unceremonious parking lot, Kossuth Square is spacious, finely detailed, and invites celebration and even play.



Images: Sam Valentine and Sam Jacob


Robust granite walls and plaza paving establish an environment of clean, modern lines and enframe generous lawn and garden beds. Wood-capped walls provide visual warmth and comfortable seating. On central axis with the Parliament, misting jets and an infinity-edged reflecting pool activate the plaza and encourage participation.



Image: Sam Valentine


What you see only on the second glance, though, is a medley of security and counterterrorism measures. Observing rows of bollards, continuous planter and seating walls, and the change in elevation of the infinity-edge fountain, the collage of a security perimeter starts to take shape. (Unsurprisingly, I was not able to find advertisement of this protective design online.)


Kossuth Lajos tér's creative design approach can and should be carried onto all sites: public and private, large and small. On any project, a designer should ask whether a fence could be more (or less) than a fence. Utilitarian purposes can be revealed under more thorough inspection, but at first glance a landscape should be about what matters most - the people who use it.



Image: Sam Jacob


Through the Billowing Bench

Posted by Sam Valentine on August 12, 2017 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (1)


Image: Bing Maps


Parque Güell in Barcelona, Spain is a landscape like none other I've experienced. It is a challenge to describe this Antoni Gaudí  landscape in just a few words, but if you imagine a less-monetized and more-lithic Disneyland, you will be on the right track. Grown from boulders, cobbles, stone slabs, tile shards, and grout, the Park is a fantasyland of brave forms and inventive details.


One of those details in particular, the continuous, curvilinear bench that wraps around the Teatro Griego (Greek Theater), has stuck with me since my visit earlier this summer.



Images: Charlene Lobo Soriano and Sam Valentine


From a hundred yards away the bench is already distinct. Its serpentine form encloses the 30,000 square-feet of open stonedust plaza and its colorful mosaic surface enframes the sloping view of Barcelona below. The mosaic pattern of the benchwall is informal, vibrant, bedazzled, and would be quite jarring if transplanted into almost any other landscape. It is not the surface decoration but the furniture's clever form that drew me in and got me thinking.



Images: Jake Bellucci and Liz Castro


The bench seat abuts a shoulder-height backrest wall, which -- despite its swoops and curves -- provides a continuous protective barrier against falling to a lower level of the landscape. The surface of the seat pitches gently to this backrest and provides for relatively cool and comfortable seating.



Image: Sam Valentine


Parque Güell is a generally strange landscape, but I found the trilobite-sized white bumps especially puzzling. Squatting down to bring them to eye level, a story of rainwater quickly opened up. The entire tiled seat slab, at least 700 feet in length, serves as a collection pan for stormwater. The bumps serve as guards, apparently to keep visitors and their clothing out of what must be a running stream of rainwater, and the backrest is perforated with weepholes that outlet the water to a gutter on the other side of the parapet.



Image: Sam Valentine


It is rare to wish for rain during a landscape visit, but with the system dry as a bone the day I toured the Park, it was necessary to fill in the blanks with a touch of imagination. Fortunately, the narrative of rainwater moving across and through the billowing bench is expressed clearly in slopes, channels, holes, gutters, and, finally, gargoyles.



Image: Elias Rovielo 

Tea with a View

Posted by Sam Valentine on July 17, 2017 at 9:40 PM Comments comments (0)


Image: Elena Svirya


Having landed in Morocco a few hours prior, my friend and I pushed through the bustling market streets of Tangier to find a good sunset perch. Our trek took us up and over hills, twisting through the ancient medina and past a few modern plazas. We had been tipped off to make a stop at the famed Café Hafa, and as we neared that pin on our map, we could feel an urban energy building.


People were descending in droves, arriving by foot, bicycle, and motorcycle on the oceanfront café that -- except for a quick read of a travel article -- we knew nothing about.



Images: Ruben Mediavilla Blanco, Bolbo Laan, and Alessandro Rumi


Entering between stuccoed walls, Café Hafa spilled down before us from the city towards the sea. As we soon realized, we were arriving at one of Tangier's best sunset-viewing venues, and doing so during Ramadan, when the day's fast is broken with the sinking of the sun. Suffice it to say we were not alone.


Café Hafa is situated on a precipice over 200 feet above the Mediterranean Sea. From this overlook, one peers out over the Strait of Gibraltar, and Spain seems so close one could (almost) imagine swimming to it. So close that it is easy to forget you are on African shores.



Image: Sam Valentine


The Café is more landscape than building. The interior shops are scattered and ancillary, places not so much to sit as to order and make payment. Meanwhile, the white-stuccoed terraces, narrow strips of masonry hugging the hillside, dominate the environmental experience. The construction is makeshift and the details quite crude. The stair tread widths and riser heights are each singular and unpredictable. The compartmentalizing walls are quite literally cobbled together. Overall the aesthetic is more ratty than refined, but somehow there is a dignified and durable undercurrent.


Each terrace is screened from the next, buffered by robust plantings of geraniums and seaside succulents. These plant masses create semi-private pockets for socializing, but they also frame views out over the Strait.



Images: Till Jacket and Xuoan Duquesne


It is rare for an American to see the sun setting over the Atlantic but arguably rarer for one to see an unpolished landscape in such high demand. As the sun sank, the Café endured as a vibrant social scene, with every chair occupied and a strong sense that the guests would linger well after their stomachs were full.



Image: Toni Pamuk

Enclosure in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on May 18, 2017 at 9:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Image: Tim Green


In my last post, I described how visual massing, especially that created primarily from plant material, can enframe landscape views. The same trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines used for enframement of landscape vistas can be used to shape the edges one perceives in an exterior space.


Much in the way that drywall, wood, and metal define the edges of an interior room, plant material of varying heights and densities is commonly used to limit, or enclose, one's surroundings in the landscape.

 


Image: Jojo Vriens


In its most basic sense, enclosure is achieved by the implementation of one or more walls. Think of the various forms that a hedge can take on; aligning shrubs and trees into a hedgerow, a screening hedge, an aerial hedge, or a windbreak creates a plant "wall" that obstructs visibility and limits passage. By planting a hedge, a landscape designer is actually delineating a small piece of the earth's surface, enclosing a finite amount of land as "in" and marking the rest as "out."


Images: Micolo J., James De Tuerk, and Putney Design


When the same single hedge is grouped with others or planted in an encircling curve, a designer can create a landscape corridor or an outdoor room.


Images: Phil Pickin and James DeTuerk


Like any respectable composition, an outdoor room is created through exerting control. A successful outdoor room can create a sense of privacy, security, and intimacy. Enclosing walls can not only block undesirable views but can also allow a central feature such as a fountain or seating area to be emphasized. One landscape that stands out from my travels as an especially effective and tranquil outdoor room, is the Ellipse at Dumbarton Oaks. A lawn and central water feature is encircled by seventy-six hornbeams.

 


Image: Jidan Chaomian 


Enframement in the Landscape

Posted by Sam Valentine on December 1, 2016 at 8:45 PM Comments comments (1)

Note: My next two posts will explore how "enframement" and "enclosure" are achieved in the landscape, with a focus on plant massing.



Image: Sam Valentine

 

Plants -- like all matter in the universe -- have mass. While mass means one thing to chemists and physicists, there is another type of mass that landscape architects and garden designers rely upon: "visual mass."


Visual mass, which can be created from wood, stone, metal, or -- often -- living plants, is one of the most important tools in a site designer's toolbox. It is through the perceived mass of trees, shrubs, grasses, and vines that a garden takes shape.



Image: Henry Vincent Hubbard, An Introduction to the Study of Landscape Design and Bob Radlinski

 

To varying degrees of effectiveness, all plants can be used to enframe landscape views. Solid, opaque tree trunks can provide a vertical edge to a picturesque view. Lighter, billowy leaves and branches can form the top of a framed view as shrubs or tall grasses can make up the bottom.


 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

By selectively revealing pieces of a landscape and masking others from sight, a designer controls the composition. Modifying plant massing can provide visual balance to a scene and it also allows the designer to highlight key thematic features. Some of the clearest demonstrations of this idea of the controlled view is seen in the visuals of Humphry Repton.

 

 

Image: Humphry Repton

 

Humphry Repton was a British landscape designer who was masterfully framing landscape views over 200 years ago. He presented his designs to clients in signature packages he called "Red Books," and included within them ingenious overlay paintings. The overlays, a fine-art equivalent of "before and after" shots, documented an existing landscape condition and allowed the client to flip a panel to reveal the proposed composition.



Images: Humphry Repton

 

Enframing with plant material can be as simple as the addition of a new shrub or two, but in some cases, controlling a view can require much bolder design moves, including the removal of mature trees or regrading of the landscape. For the right view though, even extreme measures are worth it.

 


Image: Bob Radlinski




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Just a Dash of Color

Posted by Sam Valentine on October 29, 2016 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

In my recent travels, I had the opportunity to tour El Jardín Japones, a Japanese-themed garden park in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was remarkable to observe one foreign country's distinct style transplanted into the center of another far off land. Coming from the United States, I certainly did not expect to find Asian gardening in South America.

 

However, as I strolled the Jardín's dozen acres, what stood out far more than the cultural juxtaposition was a special visual effect: the powerful and judicious use of the color red.

 


Images: Richard Lemmer, Nancy Waldman, and Miranda Jan

 

After my visit, just a bit of research suggests that red lacquer is actually more of a Chinese signature than a Japanese one, but that does nothing to undermine the striking visual experience I observed. The bold choice to cover the Jardín's bridges and gateways with bright-red paint results in dramatic vistas across the lawns, ponds, and rock gardens. The painted structures "pop" against a backdrop of shrubs, trees, and city skyline.

 

Across cultures, the color red has unique social and psychological associations. Red sports cars, red lipstick, red sunsets, and red stop signs undeniably demand human attention. Lurking behind these cultural meanings there is an array of scientific explanations for red's prominence.

 


Images: Turenscape Landscape Architecture

 

The photos posted above show examples of the color red used in both historic and contemporary landscapes far from the single park I visited in Argentina. In the landscape, red stands out even more dramatically than it does on a city street or a paper page. An autumnal maple leaf, a glowing holly drupe, or a lacquered "torii" each reads in strong contrast to the shadowy greens and browns of a garden. The result is even more painterly when that landscape is covered in a fresh blanket of white snow.

 

As in all types of composition, the design of landscapes calls for the artist to use his or her tools judiciously. Red is only so effectual in El Jardín Japones because it is applied sparingly, precisely, and strategically.

 


Images: El Bitio and Duncan Harris

 

While an unbroken red field of blooming poppies is certainly a sight to see, the view lacks the dynamic force of a few lone poppy blooms standing starkly against a green field.



Image: Peter Kurdulija

 

 


Pulling Strings

Posted by Sam Valentine on June 28, 2016 at 9:15 PM

 


Image: Andrew Magill

 

A taut line of string is something of a rare find in the designed landscape. Neither stone nor steel, plant nor paver, and wood nor water, string has material implications of fragility, impermanence, and tension.

 

In gardening and landscape construction, string and wire often serve a supporting role, but they are often kept backstage, intentionally concealed from view. Gardener's twine makes espaliers possible and trains everything from tomato plants to young trees. Mason's string guides the building of straight walls and is critical in laying out paths, concrete forms, and other hardscape elements.

 


Images: Monaghan Inc., Alan Buckingham, and Sparkle Motion

 

When strings get really interesting, though, is when they are put brightly on display. Perhaps the most commonplace instance of ornate string in a garden is the woven hammock. Popularized, if not invented, by ancient South and Central American cultures, hammocks become works of art when a web of colorful cords come together to suspend a resting body above the garden floor.

 


Images: Anna Ban, Lee Tishman, and Li Tsin Soon

 

Around the world, artists and designers have followed this thread on a larger scale, stringing their work significantly higher in a way that defines and redefines outdoor spaces.

 


Images: Elizabeth Graf and M. G. Stanton

 

Last year in Boston, the city's newest park system was treated to a months-long string installation by artist Janet Echelman. Tethered between skyscrapers, "As If It Were Already Here," became a colorful landmark, changing color with time of day and weather.

 

 


Images: John Hill/World Architects

 


This year, a young team of architects pulled fluorescent cords across a largely bare courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa PS1) in New York City. Following the project's name, "Weaving the Courtyard," a young architecture studio brings the courtyard walls together with colorful lines that also serve to establish a ceiling for the space.



Images: Sam Valentine

 

During a visit to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico a few years ago, I approached the Galeria Nacional, an art museum housed in a stately but staid old monastery. Entering the central courtyard, I was surprised to walk right into an art installation. Using just string and cloth, artists Doel Fresse and Vladimir García powerfully and vividly redefined a 16th century building, and created this strong new character without any permanent alteration of the building.

 


Image: Sam Valentine

 

 

 


Planting in Brick

Posted by Sam Valentine on February 29, 2016 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)


To early philosophers, the world was comprised of just four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Today, a chemist will more likely give you the number "118" (the discovery of four new elements was announced in December 2015). Landscape designers, however, can often perform the miracle of boiling the world down to merely three elements: hardscape, softscape, and structure.



Images: Dean Hochman, Tanaka Juuyoh, and Susanne Nilsson

 

Though lacking in scientific heft, this tripartite view of landscape is relatively convenient. "Structures" are the architectural inventions, generally vertical and walled, that can be located in the garden or form its outside boundaries. "Hardscape" elements are the seatwalls, flagstones pavers, plaza bricks, poured concrete walks, and the like that remain fixed under foot. "Softscape" components are a mixed bag of almost everything else; I have seen this category to include lawns and trees, water features, and everything in between.

 

In landscape design, things can get exciting where these three elements overlap and hybridize. Examples that come readily to mind include a flagstone path with soft moss conquering its cold stone joints; water cascading down a vertical rock face; and -- as is the focus of this post - walls made of modular bricks that can host planting.

 


Images: Micaela Nardella and Oana Tudose

 

It was an online video that tipped me off to this somewhat trending topic. The two architecture students invented "Brick Biotope," a handmade "bird-friendly brick," to integrate with the standard dimensions of a conventional brick wall. The bricks are patterned to provide room for small plants and growing media, as well as small crevices that birds can call home.



Images: Patio Town, Jensen Architects, FabArtDIY, and Rael San Fratello

 

Brick Biotope is prototypical and hand-crafted. Consequently, unless you are quite crafty yourself, it will not be seen in your garden any time soon. The experiment does, however, remind me that there are plenty of readymade products that allow you to bring vegetation to the walls of your home and garden. Aesthetic detailing of these "plantable" bricks and blocks varies greatly, as does price. On the low end of both spectrums, planting pockets can be achieved in a retaining wall by selecting certain concrete blocks. (It is arguable, though, whether these are much easier to love than roadside gabions, which also allow for some vegetation to take root.)


 


Images: Rael San Fratello

 

Use 3D-printing technology, one architecture firm has pioneered much more elegant bricks that also serve the purposes of nesting birds and holding vegetation. Each brick is a piece of sculpture in its own right, and like the Brick Biotope, these units are coordinated to interweave into a conventional brick wall.

 

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was built, to transform architecture into "a lush, green mountain rising up out of the desert". While we may now be in an age of jaw-dropping modern technology, the same fascination remains strong: where softscape meets architecture, inspiration abounds.

 

 


Image: Emerging Objects