In addition to the challenges we face when building complex landscapes over structure, this project was unique in that we approached the project as an urban…
With this particular landscape architecture project, what was the most difficult issue your firm faced or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought and unique approaches in the project?
In addition to the challenges we face when building complex landscapes over structure, this project was unique in that we approached the project as an urban piazza rather than a typical park. Portland has many beautiful, verdant, lush park spaces and the design team felt strongly that Director Park needed to function differently. We wanted to create a bustling urban center for the people of Portland that is flexible and functional 365 days of the year. During the design process, it was a challenge to expand thinking beyond a traditional park of lawn and trees.
We also gave space back to the pedestrian by removing a good deal of surface parking. Director Park stretches from building face to building face, embracing and unifying a large piece of the urban fabric. Despite the new parking garage below the Park, it was a challenge to convince people that removing street parking was in the best interest of park patrons and the urban condition.
Our thinking around this project is not new – utilizing elements such as water, durable pavement, moveable seating and sheltered gathering spaces are time-tested strategies for shaping successful urban space. We used these fundamental tools to create a public space that celebrates the vibrant social community in Portland. Director Park has been extremely popular and well-attended, which is our greatest measure of success.
In general, do you feel that the role of the landscape architect is changing on similar building types? Did this project expand or evolve your role as a landscape architect in any way?
A landscape architect is trained to take a broad view, and to integrate many complex systems – structural, social, economic, etc. Never working in isolation, we are constantly in conversations with architects, engineers, social scientists, arborists, urban planners or community groups. The ability to integrate and give form to the needs of each of these stakeholders is a unique skill. Landscape is the matrix that holds everything together – connecting buildings, people, transit, nature. OLIN, and more generally, landscape architects, are finding ourselves in ever-expanding roles on design teams. Demand is growing for integrative thinking that can create both big-picture visions and detailed, elegant implementation.
How is your installation or project possible today in a way that it may not have been in the past, and how have current trends or thoughts in landscape architecture inspired new creative solutions?
OLIN has a history of successfully implementing complex, thriving landscapes over structure. At Director Park, the plaza was built over a parking garage, which presented typical challenges of soil depth, drainage, weight and structural loads. However, as more and more projects like this are built in the urban realm, new products, technologies and construction strategies emerge that are streamlining the implementation of these landscapes. As the constructed grounds of 30+ years ago are maturing, we are able to look back and evaluate the effectiveness of our designs and learn from them.
Additionally, the general culture of design is giving more attention to the practice of Landscape Architecture, which has allowed for an expanded dialogue among those who are invested in the built environment (scientists, engineers, biologists, architects, etc). More people understand that it is possible to create a healthy environment in which trees and plants can thrive while providing vibrant public spaces that enhance urban livability.
In the context of this project, how is your office and your design process being influenced by current thoughts in academic curricula? In turn, are your current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
OLIN was founded by two professors from the University of Pennsylvania and today all of our Partners are deeply involved in the academic realm. Today’s student is acutely aware of the challenges we face as landscape architects and demand an education that fully incorporates issues of sustainability (environmental, social and economic), thoughtful design, and an integrated multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving.
OLIN’s projects and processes are not only built on these values, but our legacy of more than 35 years of designing and implementing thriving public space give us the ability to see trends toward an expanding role for landscape architects.
We bring this knowledge to the academic realm, and encourage a strong dialogue between the students (and departments) of many disciplines. With each project (both academic and in practice) it is becoming more apparent no one profession can affect positive change alone.