Play in Music City: Earthscape at ASLA 2021

While there wasn’t a lot of time for making the most of Nashville, we did find some moments to explore, take in some music and, well, PLAY!  A silly number of Earthscapers have strong musical skills; many of our teammates have been in bands, play instruments, sing or enjoy a good jam session. So, we were naturally drawn to Nashville’s musical establishments!


The 2021 EXPO hall was filled with new and innovative products and services sourced by landscape architects.  In our (biased) opinion, the biggest showstopper was the massive wave sculpture we brought from Canada – at 22 feet long, 9 feet high and 6 feet wide it was an Instagram hit.  One Landscape Architect who has attended ASLA for 30+ years told us it was the most outstanding booth at the EXPO! The wave is designed with undulating curves and distinct angles. Climbing holds encouraged visitors to scale the structure and pose for photos or hang from the stainless steel bars.  The sling nets provided a great hang out spot for conversations about play value and construction techniques. The playground sculpture was a showstopper on the EXPO floor and we’re glad we provided a fun spot for adults and kids to stop, talk and climb.


Sessions: Storytelling through Design


On Friday afternoon, Nathan led an education session, Storytelling through Design: Honoring Diverse Voices, alongside Karen Hunter, MBA, PMP and Kenneth Kokroko, ASLA. Their discussion centred around two projects, Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and the Joe Louis Gateway in Detroit.  The session explored how stories and storytelling can act as the driving creative force behind powerful community-first designs that reflect the communities in which they are situated.  In reflecting these stories, the design process must explore complex topics of representation, cultural sensitivity and appropriation.  Storytelling through design, when it listens and reflects and honors diverse voices, can deeply inform recreation and play spaces and actually act as a catalyst for reconciliation, healing of urban trauma, and community dialogue and co-authorship.

A Saturday afternoon session, led by Kerry Huang from James Corner Field Operations, discussed “Invisible Infrastructures: A Park Atop a Highway at the Presidio Tunnel Tops.”  The Tunnel Tops natural playground was shown and discussed as a part of this massive project at one of America’s most well known National Parks.



POE’s & Play: Tools for reflection and growth


Sunday was Design Day with multiple events happening throughout the day on the EXPO floor.  For the first time, ASLA hosted 7-minute ‘Game Changer’ presentations by speakers who were chosen by vote prior to the conference.  Melissa’s topic POE’s and Play: Tools for reflection and growth, developed with Tatiana Zakharova, discussed the POE process that our design team undertakes after playgrounds have been opened to the public.  She talked about the value of post-occupancy evaluations, not just from a technical standpoint but how we can learn from users when we spend time observing and expanding our observations to look for relationships and stories.  She begins with the question we ask, “How might we allow small moments and stories of play to enrich what we think of as ‘evidence’ in evidenced-based design?”

The presentation opened the doors to more conversations about the power of play and how we need to consider, not just the playground site and equipment, but the players and their conversations.


As a small bonus, we were honored to win a LAMMY award from Landscape Architecture Magazine!  We received the 2021 Advertising Award for Best Graphic Quality for an ad that featured our project at Georgetown Day School.


Looking forward to ASLA 2022 in San Francisco!