Modern landscape architecture uses cues from nature to solve environmental challenges and create more sensitive design.

During 30 years in landscape architecture, Chip Crawford, FASLA, Senior Principal at Forum Studio, has witnessed the pendulum swing in landscape design.  No longer intent on leveling the earth and displacing nature in the path of development, modern landscape design integrates the existing natural environment to create better built solutions for the earth and those who use the space.

StoryTrack:  How do you begin to plan a development where there are existing natural systems?

Chip Crawford: We spend a lot of time analyzing what we call the genius of the place. What is it about the environment, about the circulation systems, the roadway systems, the soil types, the hydrology, the vegetation… that we can learn from as we begin to solve a problem on the site.

ST: Does that lead specifically into creating sustainable architecture?

CC: Landscape architecture is rooted in sustainability and doing what’s right for the planet in design and in materials.  Some of the most current thinking about materials is around sustainability but also performance. For example, we’ve paved parking lots and roads for years.  But now, people are realizing we can use permeable paving, which recharges the watershed and actually cleans the water.

ST: What is the difference between planning and landscape architecture?

CC: Planning has to do with all the built systems that come into play. How do we get people where they need to go, the circulation systems, the road networks, the transportation systems. And that’s all driven by how we use the land. But landscape architecture is how we marry that to the natural systems… to the soil type, to the vegetation type, to the climate and how we make the overall built environment perform more like nature.

ST:  You do work internationally.  Is it different working in other cultures?

CC: One of the greatest drivers of the planning marketplace are these emerging countries that have this incredible urbanization happening. Places like China, Russia, Brazil and India are all seeing amazing population explosions because of migration from rural areas to the cities so it’s causing pressure on the cities to grow. So we spend a lot of time in developing countries doing large scale urban plans, sometimes adding on to a city.  And sometimes developing whole new cities from scratch. We spend a lot of time helping those developers and municipalities and government agencies create strategies about how they’re going to develop in the future.

ST: What drives you when you think about space?

CC: The biggest difference is most architects start from the inside out. Our strategy at Forum Studio is to start from the outside in. So it’s a completely opposite sort of perspective. It’s creating an environment that’s better than the site we started on.  That works better for the community.  That works better for the environment. That cleans the air and cleans the water, and actually performs as good or better than before it was built out.

About the Author

Lori Dowd

Lori Dowd is an award-winning filmmaker and founder of StoryTrack Studio. For over 20 years, she has directed and produced programming for a range of corporate, non-profit, online and broadcast partner/client.