Archive for the ‘Guest blog post’ Category

“From Memory to Memorial” – Book review by Lisa Horne

Sunday, September 10th, 2017

In memory of the lives that were lost, saved, and changed forever in the attacks on September 11, 2001, here is a review of Bill Thompson’s recently published book, From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93. Thank you, Lisa Horne, for this review.

“We Did Not Forget” – Book review by Lisa Horne of From Memory to Memorial: Shanksville, America, and Flight 93 by J. William Thompson

Bill Thompson is personally grateful for the passengers’ heroic charge that ended in Flight 93’s crash in Somerset County, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. He was only six blocks away from what was likely the target of Flight 93’s hijackers on that fateful day. In From Memory to Memorial, Thompson explores personal and professional questions through this narrative of the people and events in the creation of the Flight 93 National Memorial following the events of 9/11. The prologue establishes many themes: the role of temporary tributes, elusive closure for the victims’ families, the appropriate expression of a memorial, and the causes of the extended delay in building this particular memorial.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The first chapter opens with vignettes of where residents of Somerset County were that day as they saw the airplane, and moves progressively through its descent to close with the two metal scrap cutters who actually witnessed the impact. Events unfold as they would have been experienced. Where is the airplane? There must be one. Where are the bodies? There are none. As the narrative progresses, we see it through the eyes of the first responders, who come to realize that the smell of burning flesh and the small pieces of scrap metal littered everywhere is all that is left. Most, but not all, of the human remains have been vaporized into the tree canopy, into the land. The text is visceral, raw, and immediate.

Most journalists miss the influence of land on culture while many designers, who understand these things, cannot express it well or communicate the emotion and nuances of these dynamics. With past experience as Editor-in-Chief of Landscape Architecture Magazine for nearly a decade, Thompson exemplifies both skillsets so that the reader can experience the interconnectedness of the landscape and the people who live on it. The book traces the history of the nearby village, Shanksville, from the late 1700s to the present day and underscores how the farmers’ value of cooperation became a bedrock of the community’s way of life. The theme runs like a ribbon through the book in the village’s efforts to provide support and comfort to the victims’ families. Within this backdrop, we understand and applaud as Wally Miller, the county coroner, tells news anchor Katy Couric that she cannot film the crash site. It is sacred ground containing the remains of the heroes of Flight 93.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Alongside the minute details of the events unfolding after the crash of Flight 93, there are larger implications at play. Since there is little information and no survivors, the motive of the brave passengers is unclear. Was it self-sacrifice? Are some of the passengers heroes or are all of them heroes? What defines a hero? These questions are painful, but important for the American culture and for the expression of the memorial. Thompson takes the reader through these different considerations and sensitively presents different views. Memorials are built so that we remember what we can easily forget. What about the phenomenon of visitors leaving behind temporary, mass produced objects such as hats, teddy bears, and flags with messages marked on them? How do we preserve these? Some of these questions do not have resolution, but Thompson shares how all of it unfolded for this memorial site and also adds perspectives from Erika Doss, an American studies scholar on temporary memorials and Rhoda Schuler, a theology student who connects the behavior with the theory of an American civil religion.

The last half of the book focuses on the events around the design and construction of the memorial. Much of it was unprecedented. A summary of outcomes for places of mass tragedy by a cultural geographer Kenneth Foote identifies three outcomes: obliteration, designation, and sanctification. Places of mass murder are rarely sanctified with the exception of the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. It is not coincidental that the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and its design and construction process served as a precedent for the Flight 93 crash site. We also learn that memorials are often either heroic with overt symbolism such as the National World War II Memorial or minimalist and understated as with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Flight 93 National Memorial Map

It was important that the process of selecting the memorial be through a competition open to any and all although, as Thompson reminds us with an experienced perspective, only the skilled professionals had a realistic chance of winning. Thompson summarizes the differences and major themes of the five final entries and explains the jury’s selection process. We can fully understand how they came to select the entry that they did even though there was early concern about the way the design might be perceived. The final entry, of course, eventually led to a considerable controversy with its Crescent of Embrace that was compared to the symbol of an Islamic crescent. In the end, the designer adjusted the design to be a Circle of Embrace with some additional trees. Not having yet seen the memorial myself, I appreciated the site description from Thompson’s visit during the grand opening and his assessment of how effectively the design achieved its original intent.

The immersive details in the book, and the inclusion of dialogue and quotes drawn from hundreds of oral histories and interviews, create a unique and important non-fiction story. With restraint, Thompson folds in scholarly research and definitions only where they are needed to provide perspective with the greatest economy of words. It is never academic, but the depth of thought takes the story past the superficial and poses questions of importance to the profession of landscape architecture and to Americans.

Lisa Horne, ASLA, is a project leader at Studio Outside in Dallas, Texas, and incoming chair of the ASLA Professional Practice Network. She may be reached at lhorne (at) Thank you, Lisa, for this excellent book review!

Thank you to Pennsylvania State University Press for providing a review copy.

And thank you, Bill Thompson, for such a thoughtful, meaningful book.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

‘Therapeutic Gardens’ – Book review by Lisa Horne

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Collaborative and Compassionate Design – Guest post & book review by Lisa Horne of Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces

Photo by Lisa Horne

Therapeutic gardens come in many different forms… Image Source: Lisa Horne

In Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces, Daniel Winterbottom and Amy Wagenfeld expand the conversation on therapeutic gardens and broaden the definition to many places beyond medical facilities and hospitals. This leads to the appropriate question of whether all gardens are therapeutic, which is answered generally with this quote from Robert Rodale: “Gardens are where people and the land come together in the most inspiring way.”1 This book, which recently won the 2016 Place Book Award from the Environmental Design Research Association, recognizes its place in a growing body of literature and adds value to the discussion in its interdisciplinary nature and its challenge to the concept that therapeutic gardens are limited to certain places. As an occupational therapist, Amy Wagenfeld infuses the text with an empathy and warmth not often found in design books.

The book can be divided into three sections of overview, therapeutic garden typologies, and maintenance. The first two chapters give a general overview. “Foundations” looks at history, theory, research, and applications from the perspective of an occupational therapist. “Collaborative Design” discusses the design process with a case study of a courtyard designed for Japanese Americans at a senior care facility and identifies various design elements for therapeutic gardens. The typology chapters each have a broad topic such as movement, solace, or learning and examine specific kinds of gardens within that topic such as gardens for children with cancer or children with obesity. Each kind is described fully and followed with a brief section of specific design considerations. Each typological chapter has at least one “Closer Look” section, a case study that illustrates one of the kinds of gardens. Most case studies have plans.

Two prevailing and interrelated ideas of collaborative design and compassionate design weave through the book. Collaborative design is not a new concept. It is often acknowledged, but less frequently practiced in the profession. Collaboration can take a back seat for fear that engaging users could redirect the project inappropriately. Where this particular book adds value is its fearless and detailed narrative of what collaboration actually looks like. It implies that landscape architects can creatively design ways to overcome barriers such as language, culture, and socioeconomic status to include more challenged groups. One specific example was a project in Guatemala City in which there was a language barrier. The participants tagged images in books or created collages and models in clay. The compassionate argument is also imbued through the text. There is an emphasis on universal design principles and sensitivity to the nuances of impairment, disability, and handicap. It is not just semantics, but rather is intended to place the person at the center of the design. The closing paragraph of the “Afterword” emphasizes this concept by stating that great design is both responsive and compassionate.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of the book is its warmth of tone. There is elegance to the text. The introductory chapters carry the reader through complex intellectual territory complete with references to phenomenology and the more nuanced explanations of definitions with finesse. The photographs are up to date, high quality, and a visual delight. As a picture book for ideas, it delivers. The plan diagrams lucidly communicate the central point with no additional embellishment. More technical readers may miss footnotes or endnotes to follow up on some of the more provocative points in the text although there is a complete list of references at the end of the book.

Photo by Lisa Horne

…And different sizes. Image Source: Lisa Horne

Although the intended audience is not explicitly stated, we have several clues from the text. Landscape architects are mentioned in the final paragraph of the “Afterword.” The second chapter gives an overview of the design process, which would have merit for students of landscape architecture. The book will be on my list of go-to books for visual inspiration, but it is not as deeply technical as some other related books. For example, Therapeutic Landscapes by Clare Cooper Marcus and Naomi Sachs goes into the more technical aspects of meeting the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements for therapeutic gardens in medical settings, which are not mentioned here.

This book is a rare piece of interdisciplinary collaboration between a landscape architect and occupational therapist and functions as both a source of inspiration for students and practicing landscape architects and a manifesto for compassionate, user-centered design. It adds a valuable voice to an ongoing conversation in our profession.

Photo by Lisa Horne

Interdisciplinary collaboration inspires design. Image Source: Lisa Horne

1 Winterbottom, Daniel, and Amy Wagenfeld. Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces. Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2015.

Note: Timber Press provided a review copy for the writing this book review.

Lisa Horne, ASLA, is a project director at RVi in Dallas, Texas, and past co-chair of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environment Professional Practice Network. She may be reached at lhorne (at) Many thanks, Lisa, for another terrific book review!


The Hero’s Journey as Healing Journey – Guest post by Dan Mallach

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
Bartram's Yellowwood. Photo by Dan Mallach

Bartram’s Yellowwood. Photo by Dan Mallach

Landscape Architect Dan Mallach contacted me after he finished his MLA thesis, “The Folktale Journey in Healthcare Facility Landscapes,” and I suggested that he write a guest blog post on the subject. If you’re interested in the thesis, please leave a comment!

“The Hero’s Journey as Healing Journey: A Transformational Path for Healthcare Facility Landscapes” by Dan Mallach, RLA

“A healing is a spiritual journey” – Lewis Mehl-Madrona

In order to promote mental relaxation and physical recovery, many therapeutic gardens at healthcare facilities feature sense-pleasing designs with achievement/reward paradigms. While such designs have been shown to improve clinical outcomes, a design framework based on the landscape features of the archetypal Hero’s Journey of folktales may heighten their effectiveness, such that an individual may achieve a state of health that has been described by the World Health Organization as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Joseph Campbell and others have described the successive “stages” common to the folktale journey. Protagonists travel a metaphoric road, and in doing so, encounter a world that reflects, and stimulates, a transformative process of inner travel.

In a typical story, the Hero begins his or her journey in a familiar location such as the village square. Following an interpersonal conflict or other communal challenge, the Hero becomes lost in the forest. The Hero wanders, and may meet a guide who points to a literal path forward, and may offer advice to help resolve the prime conflict. The Hero must travel to a mountaintop– but first a river must be crossed and other tasks completed.


‘Birthright’ by Stephen Kellert – Book review by Lisa Horne

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

This excellent book review of ‘Birthright’ is by Lisa Horne, ASLA

Birthright cover. Image Source: Yale University PressAs the keynote at the 2013 national American Society of Landscape Architects annual meeting and expo in Boston, Stephen Kellert gave a provocative presentation for the profession. “Biophilia” is a relatively new concept in design and Kellert’s recent work Birthright gives a heartwarming survey of ideas with relevancy to design and theory.

Birthright provides a basis for incorporating nature into our lives. Kellert leaves classifications of nature open-ended and defines biophilia as a love of life. We have an innate desire for nature, which is “a birthright that must be cultivated and earned” (Kellert xiii). This attitude neither advocates a return to an Arcadian past nor forecasts apocalyptic doom. Instead, he asserts that humans will recognize their own self-interest and benefit from investing in the environment. An audience of academics, leaders, policy makers, and professionals interested in biophilia will appreciate the pace, text, and reasoning. (more…)

The healing garden down the street: Guest blog post by Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

Friday, August 22nd, 2014
Joan Vorderbruggen's garden patio. All photos by  Joan Vorderbruggen

Joan Vorderbruggen’s garden patio. All photos by Joan Vorderbruggen

I first met Joan Vorderbruggen at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) meeting in 2013 in Providence, RI. She presented an expanded version of this lovely post, and I was very moved. Sometimes we researchers and designers get so bogged down in trying to analyze and quantify everything that we forget the more human and – dare I say it? – even the spiritual dimension. Joan’s and Lisa’s words, along with images from Joan’s garden, get to the heart of it. Many thanks to both of them for sharing here.

The healing garden down the street
By Joan Vorderbruggen and Lisa Overby-Blosser

The spring of 2012 held little hope for my neighbor, Lisa, wife and mother of four teenagers.  Lisa had just been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and was given a year or less to live. Asking me if she could spend time in my backyard garden, she felt time in a peaceful setting would help her deal with the upcoming chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and other stresses.

Over that summer, Lisa spent a great deal of time walking the 5-house distance to my yard, sometimes barely able to put one foot in front of the other.  Still, she persevered, settling in to journal, sketch, and just be in the moment.  While I encouraged her to come and go as she pleased, I was happy that at times, she would join me on my deck and, without any prompting, speak of how the garden and natural world supported her during that time. I asked if I could share her words with others.

Lisa’s words (italicized) fit neatly within the framework of Stephen Kellert’s Biophillic Design Elements (below). According to Kellert, these elements stem from an intuitive human-nature connection, where people feel that spending time in nature can help them heal mentally, physically and spiritually. The Biophilia hypothesis assertion is that because humans evolved with nature, they feel comforted by nature (Kellert and Wilson, The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993).

The idea of prospect is primarily about being able to control your view, to scan the horizon and understand where you are in relationship to your surroundings.
In the garden you have control – of where you sit, where you look, what you choose to focus on – whether it’s a wide view or something really small…  There are so many choices available to you.  The fact that you can make a choice of something can be healing.

Prospect. Photo by Joan Vorderbruggen

Prospect and Refuge


Refuge allows us to feel safe, sheltered and protected.  In my garden, Lisa chose to sit under a grapevine trellis.  She speaks more in metaphor of her feelings of refuge.
The garden is always welcoming; no plants fall over or trees drop their leaves in disgust or empathy when I took my hat off exposing my baldness….  The garden accepts where your body and emotions are at that moment in time.