April 2007

My career recently took a detour, and for the moment I’m working at a Landscape Architecture firm. The work is pretty interesting and it jogged my memory to a lecture I attended this fall by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, and thought I’d share some of my notes and thoughts here.

In his lecture here in Chicago last fall, Piet did a brief overview of a couple of his local projects, and discussed his design process in general terms. The majority of the lecture was essentially a primer on the elements of plants he considers when he is designing, primarily the significance of each type of plant form. I’ve listed a few examples below, but I would definitely check out his books for further information.

Spires are a dominant form and reach toward the heavens.


Umbels are the counter balance of spires (above), and keep the eye at a certain level


Daisies remind us of the sun


This fantastic slide show exhibits Oudolf’s birth-life-death design principles supporting the overarching theme of year-round interest in the garden. I am enamored with his one-ness with plants. His delightful concepts result in rich, interesting, beautiful, natural and unique gardens.
Recent large scale projects employing his principles include:
Along with Kathryn Gustafson, the Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millenium Park (A fantastic gardener’s take here)


Battery Park, NYC

High Line Team, competition winner



With so much talk and importance of all things green, it was becoming increasingly difficult to judge what green really meant. So, a number of years ago, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) was formed and developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System to quantify ‘green’. Now LEED is the “nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.” Today, a number of project specific LEED certifications are available, including New Commercial Construction and Major Renovations, Commercial Interiors, Homes and Neighborhood Development. You can search the USGBC Registered Projects directory here for projects in your area.


111 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL – Gold LEED Core & Shell

Numerous government agencies are requiring LEED ratings for major projects to be allowed to go forward. The United States General Services Administration (GSA) Public Building Service (the government body that oversees federal buildings in design, construction and maintenance) requires LEED certification (at a minimum) for new and major renovation projects and encourages the pursuit of LEED Silver rating. One current LEED Gold rated federal building is the Byron G. Rogers U.S. Courthouse in Denver, Colorado, shown below.

Each version of LEED assigns points in a variety of areas, with minimum thresholds set for each rating level to be achieved (registered, certified, silver, gold, and platinum). Let’s take the New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED_NC) as an example. The project checklist identifies the following areas: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation & Design Process. Each of those areas have anywhere from 2 to 25 opportunities to earn credits towards any given rating. For further reading, I suggest exploring the extensive USGBC website.

A number of high profile projects are pursuing LEED ratings.


Atlantic Yards is pursuing LEED certification for all residential buildings and LEED Silver rating for the stadium.

Federal Building in San Francisco is pursuing a Silver rating