Landscape architects protect, preserve, restore, and enhance natural systems

Keywords ecosystems, ecology, natural systems, environment, resources, processes

Background and Definition
Landscape architects protect, preserve, restore, and enhance natural systems, thereby improving the environment and benefiting public welfare. Meg Calkins, the author of The Sustainable Site’s Handbook states, “If we are to protect the world’s ecosystems for future generations, the human-made environment must foster the health of both ecological and human systems” (Calkins 2012, p1). In this regard, landscape architects serve as mediators between humans and nature by regulating their coexistence. Ecologically-minded landscape architects design in compliance with the laws of nature, thus creating sites that can sustain themselves.

Human systems are sometimes damaging to natural systems. Landscape architects create landscapes that are environmentally sustainable through an understanding of interactions between aesthetics, social systems, economics, and ecology.

Often sites have been severely degraded by human activity, sometimes irreparably. Grayfields and brownfields are examples of landscapes that have already undergone significant alteration. Grayfields are sites that have previously been developed, often with large retail and commercial uses, that have since been abandoned. Brownfields are sites that contain hazardous substances that threaten human and ecological health, thus complicating issues of development. The job of a landscape architect then becomes remediating these disturbed systems and restoring a healthy connection between humans and nature. The “profession knows that nature will not simply reestablish or mend itself in many of the critically disturbed systems” upon which landscape architects operate (Calkins 2012, forward).” By understanding the mechanisms that created these damaged sites, landscape architects can consciously prevent these problems in the future.

Landscape architects work with sites that already contain thriving ecosystems or have undergone minimal disturbance by humans. The primary goal is to preserve and protect the existing ecosystems to the greatest degree possible, thereby mitigating the potential damages. Ian McHarg propelled the profession towards environmentally sensitive design by seeking a state of harmony and coexistence among ecological and urban systems through a rigorous analysis. The goal of a land suitability analysis is to determine the locations that are most suitable for development.

Through environmentally sensitive design solutions, landscape architects contribute to the welfare of the people. CLARB suggests that, “Landscape architecture contributes to environmental sustainability by responding to development challenges with solutions that involve sensitivity towards natural systems…integrate sustainability measures into all designs…[protect] natural systems ensuring that…communities have access to common resources and are involved in…conservation of those resources (CLARB, 2010, 15).” People depend upon the earth’s environmental systems. Thus, when landscape architects design sites that protect, preserve, restore, and enhance ecological processes, it benefits the health and longevity of human kind.


How can landscape architects transform disturbed landscapes into usable, ecologically functioning sites?

How do landscapes architects mitigate the damaged environmental systems?

What do landscape architects do to restore, enhance, and protect the environment?

What do landscape architects do to ensure that human interventions in the landscape protect and preserve our greatest ecological assets?


Freshkills Park
Client: City of New York in partnership with the Municipal Art Society and the New York State Department of State
Year of Completion: Not complete/Under construction
Project Location: New York City, New York, United States
Site Area: 2,200 acres
Landscape Architects: James Corner Field Operations

Prior to becoming a landfill, the site was situated at a low elevation and consisted of marshy areas and creeks (New York City Department of City Planning 2015). In 1948, the City of New York established the Fresh Kills Landfill. For nearly half a century, it received a large portion of New York City’s municipal solid waste, rising to infamy as the world’s largest landfill. As the trash kept coming in, the landfill continually climbed in elevation, which in turn created multiple mounds. These mounds were subsequently capped, a process that manages the human and ecological risks of a landfill site. In essence the process creates an impermeable surface layer made of compacted clay (Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable 2015).

Freshkills Park is one of the most ambitious landfill reclamation projects in history, dealing with an area of land that is three times that of Central Park, approximately 2,200 acres (James Corner Field Operations 2015). The City of New York envisions the park to become a world-class destination. Landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations has developed a multi-layered, three phase design that considers three basic elements: program, habitat, and circulation over a period of 30 years. Newly created as well as reclaimed wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands will begin the processes of ecological restoration on the site and host a variety of species (New York City Department of City Planning 2015). In the coming decades, Freshkills Park will transform “into a productive and beautiful cultural destination” and will be “a symbol of renewal and an expression of how our society can restore balance to its landscape” (The Freshkills Park Alliance 2015). As mediators between human made and natural systems, landscape architects have the potential to transform sites that have been damaged by the wasteful byproducts of civilization into vibrant places that serve to connect people back to the land.

1.1 Figure 1.1: Landfill Mounds at Fresh Kills


1.2 Figure 1.2: View of New York City from Fresh Kills


1.3Figure 1.3: Capping the Fresh Kills Landfill with clay layer


The Steel Yard
Client: Two graduates of Rhode Island Design School and Brown University
Year of Completion: 2010
Project Location: Providence, Rhode Island,  United States
Site Area: 3.5 acres
Landscape Architects: Martin Design Group

After Providence Steel & Iron Co. went under in 2001, they abandoned their facility and left it to decay (Green, 2011). Several years later, the soil on site was found to be toxic and hazardous to humans. The Martin Design group responded to these challenges by creating The Steel Yard, an eco-conscious park that incorporates healthy soil and an efficient stormwater management plan. Typically, contaminated soils are excavated and moved to a remote location however, at the client’s request, little of the toxic soil was removed from the site (Bruner, 2014). Instead the soil was treated with a binder that stabilizes the toxic condition (Bruner, 2014). An additional layer of healthy soil was then placed on top (Bruner, 2014). Ninety percent of rainfall is captured on site (Bruner, 2014). This is done through the use of porous paving and a “moat,” (Green, 2011). Porous paving allows water to drain through spaces in the paving material instead of gathering pollutants sitting on the surface, the water can filtrate into the ground and be directed to irrigate the site.  In events of excess rainfall, the moat captures and retains excess stormwater (ASLA). Plant species tolerant of moist soil are placed in the moat to filter the stormwater (ASLA). Additional means of eco-friendliness is accomplished through the re-use of materials (Green, 2011). Many of the existing features on site are used to add a rustic feel to the design. Pieces from the steel company are incorporated to create walls and other features on site (Green, 2011). The park was completed in 2010 (Bruner, 2014). Since then, The Steel Yard has trafficked a multitude of visitors. It is now a non-profit organization that encourages young artists to come and spread their knowledge (Green, 2011). Artists can purchase time slots to teach classes to the public (Green, 2011). What was once a threat to the safety and health of people, is now a popular public park. Through Landscape architecture, the hazardous site has transformed into a place that can be enjoyed by many.

1.4 Figure 1.4: The Steel Yard prior to remodel

1.5 Figure 1.5: Jackson Morley: activities at the Steel Yard


Broad Branch
Client: District Department of the Environment
Year of Completion: 2013
Project Location: Washington District of Columbia
Site Area: Insert site area in acres
Landscape Architects: Keith Underwood firm Underwood & Associates

Broad Branch Stream previously entered a pipe near the corner of 36th and Nevada Avenue. Underwood and associates daylighted this stream. Using sunlight, air and vegetation to remove pollutants therefore improving the water quality. (Underwood & Associates, 2015). Along with cleaning up the water improving the area for wildlife is also a strong consideration. Another stream restoration project by Underwood and Associates is the Linnean stream which feeds into the Broad Branch System. Storm sewers in the area collect nearly 24 acres of street, rooftops and sidewalks. (Underwood & Associates, 2015) The Broad Branch stream includes stakeholders ranging from surrounding neighborhoods to National Park lands and the Peruvian Embassy. Particularly on the Embassy lands runoff from the street erodes and pollutes the stream system. Underwood & Associates solution to the problems included installing a system of weirs to help slow down the water, which helped by reducing  nutrients and mitigates sediment erosion. This precedent study illustrates environmental sustainably and the welfare impact of Landscape Architecture by restoring the stream, improving the water quality and wildlife habitat. Environmental sustainability is achieved by protecting, preserving, and restoring natural ecosystems.


Berlin, Marlene. 2015. “Broad Branch Stream Walk with Steve Saari | Forest Hills Connection || News and Life in Our Neighborhood.” Accessed February 9. (Berlin, 2015)

Bruner Foundation INC. Inspiring Change- The 2013 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. Bruner Founadtion, n.d. (Bruner, 2014)

Calkins, Meg. 2012. The Sustainable Sites Handbook: A Complete Guide to the Principles, Strategies, and Best Practices for Sustainable Landscapes. 1 edition. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

Green, Jared. “Landscape Architects Take the Lead in Remaking Cities.” The Dirt, July 5, 2011. (Green, 2011)

Erin Research Inc. 2010. “Landscape Architecture and Public Welfare.” Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards.

Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable. 2015. “Landfill Cap.” FRTR: Remediation Technologies Screening Matrix and Reference Guide. Accessed February 8. (Federal Remediation Technologies Roundtable 2015)

James Corner Field Operations. 2015. “Freshkills Park.” James Corner Field Operations. Accessed February 8. (James Corner Field Operations 2015)

Forest Hills Connection. 2015. “Watch the Rehabbed Linnean Stream in a Rainstorm | Forest Hills Connection || News and Life in Our Neighborhood.” Accessed February 9. (Forest Hills Connection, 2015)

“The Steel Yard,” ALSA. (ASLA)

The Freshkills Park Alliance. 2015. “Freshkills Park.” Freshkills Park. Accessed February 8. (The Freshkills Park Alliance 2015)

New York City Department of City Planning. 2015. “Fresh Kills Park Project.” NYC Planning. Accessed February 8. (New York City Department of City Planning 2015)

Underwood & Associates. 2015. “Broad Branch | Underwood and Associates.” Accessed February 9. (Underwood & Associates, 2015)

Wright, Richard T. 2007. Environmental Science: Toward A Sustainable Future. 10th edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Figure References
Figure 1.1- Landfill Mounds at Fresh Kills jamesdunham. 2010. Freshkills Park. Photo.
Figure 1.2- View of New York City from Fresh Kills
Figure 1.3- Fresh Kills Landfill Cap
Figure 1.4- The Steel Yard – The Steel Yard.” 2015. Flickr – Photo Sharing!. Accessed May 8.
Figure 1.5-Jackson Morley: activities at the Steel Yard