Tacos, scooters and sculptures: Earthscape at #ASLA2019

Mix San Diego sunshine, 110.5 tacos, landscape architects and a bunch of Earthscape playground designers and you’ve got a recipe for awesome!  This year’s ASLA was another outstanding experience – not only because we escaped the dreary November weather of Southern Ontario, but also because of the opportunity to reconnect and meet colleagues and collaborators from all over the United States and beyond.

Inside the convention centre, hundreds of landscape architects, designers and students stopped in at our EXPO booth to talk play. This year we featured a part of a large playground project that will be installed in 2020 at Georgetown Day School (GDS) in Washington, DC. The rock outcrop play sculpture is an abstract representation of the rocks that have been dislodged by a tree falling in the mid-Atlantic forest. The angles of the sculpture create planes of play that stretch at varying angles and provide an interior space filled with nets and ropes to navigate. The playground sculpture stood out on the EXPO floor as a one-of-a-kind feature just as it will at GDS. Many booth visitors of all ages were enticed to scale the rock outcrop while others preferred to Instagram it!

On Saturday afternoon, we hosted a keen group for the Professional Practice Network “Explore the Floor” session on Children’s Outdoor Environments.  About 30 participants took part in a thought exercise as a mock team of designers tasked with designing a unique play structure for the San Diego Zoo. The design brief called for a special play sculpture that was themed around the zoo’s animals, but also told a meaningful story.  Nathan Schleicher live-sketched some of the group’s playground ideas while playground designers Laura Williams and Janelle Zwart explained the process and stories behind some of our recent playground projects.

On Monday, Nathan led an education session, Design by Hand, Build by Hand, alongside Gord Macdonald (Heritageworks) and Andrea Mantin (Brook McIlroy) that received rave reviews – “it was the most inspiring session of the conference.”  The session discussed design thinking as a thread that connects us to movements of the past by participating in and valuing the design process.  Each presenter offered perspectives on the importance of unique and authentic materials for creative public play spaces.

Nathan summarized the session like this:

“When we choose to use materials thoughtfully and authentically, we have the potential to create spaces that are timeless; unique spaces that fit the unique circumstances of a particular client, place or group of users. I think this is because there is something special about handmade things that makes them easy for us to relate to…first, there is the nature of the materials themselves that we just want to reach out and touch.  Second, there is that connection we feel (whether conscious or unconscious) to their makers, and to the history of their craft.

Handcrafting is not always going to be the easiest way to do things. In fact it is almost always simpler and cheaper to buy parts from a catalogue, and pay people to bolt them together.  But, I think there is room for both approaches. As designers and makers of things, we each encounter opportunities in our work when we can embrace more or less hand craft, and the goal I think, should be to continue to strive towards finding the right balance of these things in our work, whatever that may look like.”

We look forward to Miami 2020!