Leading Through Listening

Date Posted: 06.11.2016

By Timothy Mollette-Parks

As part of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future, Tim Mollette-Parks presented the following ideas for designing landscapes that are imbued with both beauty and performance as a vision for the future of the profession.

It’s getting noisy out there. In the 50 years since the original ‘Declaration,’ technology has given rise to new and louder voices. Good ideas are in there, but shuffled up in a deck of pretenders. Lucky for us, landscape architects are listeners. We are taught to listen to a landscape; to read its patterns of light, water, flora, people. In those patterns we find performance and poetry.

And while we may hear this poetry, we are becoming less likely to engage it. I believe we may be losing our dedication as designers. Our legacy is Olmsted, le Notre, Jekyll, Church, Farrand, Kiley, Halprin. Our conversations should not only be with the people in this room, but also with our forebears. We need to ask ‘how did their work employ form and pattern; scale and tectonics?’ And then we need to ask if our work does so with the same power. And if the answer is ‘No,’ we must try again. And try again. And try again. We cannot exchange design skills for rendering skills and pretend they are somehow the same thing. Because the truly sustainable and resilient landscapes are the ones imbued with so much beauty and meaning that future generations cannot bear to part with them.

Returning for a moment to that cacophony of voices out there… In the six years since I graduated with an MLA, I’ve already worked on projects with kids, techies, hipsters, mayors, homeless advocates, civil rights activists. If we listen to them, we find out what they love about their landscapes. If we listen to Olmsted, le Notre and Kiley, we can find the tools for amplifying what the kids and the techies and the activists love; we can make it enduring. For all of these voices, let’s design spaces that are as rich experientially, as they are performative. Let’s get excited about design again; about materials and poche and space-making. And let’s apply that to what we hear in a site and in its people. Let’s be design leaders who are fueled by a boundless curiosity. Let’s lead by listening.