In Search of a Beautiful City

Los Angeles isn’t beautiful in any traditional sense. It’s missing many of the characteristics outlined by Alain de Botton’s treatise, “How to Make an Attractive City”. But the city is inching forward, rethinking how to add back beauty through both architecture and native nature.



I’ve just returned back from the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where I left the recognizable landscape of the city for one wholly different. Lush, wild, somehow both chaotic and orderly, the coastal rain forest in the southern end of Costa Rica is where some of the world’s first skyscrapers arose, trees towering so high a whole ecosystem of birds, insects, primates, and even sunbathing iguanas can be seen, albeit sometimes only with the aid of a telescope. My eyes were stimulated by the sheer amount of data and detail to process, yet not overwhelmed. Instead, there was an undeniable sense of awe felt within this landscape encompassed within the womb of a forest. It’s not too often I feel this sense of experiential joy within a city. Why?

A landscapes beauty can be an immediate emotional and intellectual experience. I felt many moments of this in Costa Rica. Photo: Gregory Han A landscape can be an immediate emotional and intellectual experience. In Costa Rica these opportunities are many, while back in Los…

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Sunset Boulevard: A Storyteller’s Street

The most famous street in all of Los Angeles is rich with history, both real and imagined.


Sunset Blvd on a Friday night. Creative Commons photo by: Steven Bevacqua. Sunset Blvd on a Friday night. Creative Commons photo by: Steven Bevacqua.

I recently discovered Environmental Detectives, a teaching tool which educates young kids to appreciate the sciences through the joys of exploration. I like this phrase – “Environmental Detectives” – and believe it is applicable to the research we do as a studio. Our process is perhaps less scientific (though not exclusive of science), more pragmatic, and heuristic driven in comparison to the teaching tool. But both approach problem solving using a similar inquiry-based process.

In our case our design process begins with site research. And from there, design inspiration emerges from multiple influences: site, people, environment, history, and much more. Ultimately, landscape architects want to create a design that tells the intrinsic story of a place and engages people through use and stewardship, so it is important for us as designers to understand a place to narrate…

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Paying Back Mother Nature

Trees – like friends, pets, and family – are only truly appreciated in their absence. One of the AHBE Landscape Architects reminisces about a tree which provided energy-saving shade her home for years…


Photo by Linda Daley Photo by Linda Daley

A large Eucalyptus street tree once stood directly in front of my house until it fell onto the road many years ago. We were lucky, the house was not damaged, nor was anyone hurt thanks to the time of the day and the direction the tree fell. Interestingly, I only appreciated the tree most when it was gone.

In its absence we recognized the tree shaded our house from the afternoon sun. I have not calculated the increased amount of energy we have used to cool ourselves inside our home since the loss of the tree, but I am sure it is significant. I also discovered that the tree abated the sounds of our busy street, yet another of many benefits of living with trees. In the absence of the Eucalyptus, we now have to keep the front windows closed at the busiest times of day.

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The Garden as Inspiration of the World We Wished We Lived In

I like this idea: The garden as an idealized world we’d like to live in, blurring the transition between our world and nature’s…while also a buffer of all the things we’d like to keep at bay.



“Even though there is a lot going on, there’s this incredible sense of calmness – the garden never excludes the landscape, it’s always welcoming.”

Filmmaker Howard Sooley has been visiting author Anna Pavord’s residence, Sunnyside Farm, in the Southwest English countryside for a decade, noting how the author’s garden gently transitions into the surrounding natural landscape to the effect of “a series of doors leading you from one room to the next with signs telling you to drink the potion.”

Pavord, the author of The Tulip: The Story of a Flower That Has Made Men Mad, a horticultural love affair with the wild flower, created her garden dictated by the rhythms and forms of foliage, flowers, and ferns to shape what she believes is a person’s best defense against the worst of the outside world – the garden as an idealized landscape of the “world that we wished we lived in”. She invited Sooley to film her in this…

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Interstitial Landscapes: Discovering the Beauty Between Here and There

These interstitial – the spaces existing inbetween here and there – can be buffered zones of peace and tranquility, whether dividing busy urban zones or natural ecosystems (e.g. marshes, the pause between coastal and riparian zones).


Lagoon-in-Santa-Barbara_photo-by-LDaley Lagoon in Santa Barbara – Photo: Linda Daley

What defines beauty in the landscape?

The question is meant to be rhetorical, as I recognize responses will differ person to person. But for designers the question is an especially relevant one, as the exploration for beauty helps shape our work.

I remember a particular moment when I sensed a connection with a particular landscape. I was in my early twenties and working in midtown Manhattan. As a typical New Yorker, I regularly weaved through the streets of the city in a rush, maneuvering through the throngs of visitors who, to my youthful annoyance, all walked too slowly. Didn’t they know I had a pressing “to-do” list to accomplish during my precious one hour break?

Then one day, Paley Park stopped me in my tracks.

Creative Commons Images by saitowitz Creative Commons Images by saitowitz

Long before I learned about the profession of landscape architecture Paley Park made we aware of the nexus between landscape and architecture, an interstitial…

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Go With the Flow With This Golden Opportunity for Water Conservation

Over 14 billion gallons of water saved per year for Californians if we can get over the “ick” factor of peeing while in the shower, a la George Costanza.


George Costanza’s motivations for relieving himself while in shower might be more slovenly and lazy in nature, but our favorite doltish character from the Seinfeld ensemble might have been inadvertently onto something: peeing while in the shower can save 1,157 gallons of water annually per household.


Considering there are 12,542,460 million households in California according to U.S. Census, that roughly equates to 14,511,626,220 billion gallons of water per year saved by multi-tasking. It’s such a significant figure several water conservationgroups have used the taboo act in their headline grabbing campaigns to spread water conservation awareness (it’s #gowiththeflow if you want to hashtag your commitment to water conservation). So take relief friends…relieving yourself isn’t shameful, it’s a water-wise decision.

Now Kramer’s dual purpose shower and food waste disposal system designed for washing produce while lathered…now that’s only for the truly California drought committed!

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Keeping a Pool In a Time of Drought

A surprising statistic: “A pool with a cover uses less water over 3 years than a turf lawn of the same size or even a drought tolerant garden.”


Photo: Chuan Ding Photo: Chuan Ding It’s been over a year since our Governor officially declared a California state of emergency due to the state drought. However, it’s important to note average temperatures have been rising for over the past 15 years, meaning if the trend continues we are likely to face more extremely hot dry summers for years to come. Heat waves have already swept through Asia and Europe in the last couple weeks, during which time thousands of Europeans went out to seek relief out in the water. Swimming pools, public water fountains, mist fountains, and any body of water were popular destinations for families – and even pets – seeking relief during the heatwave and it’s no different here in Los Angeles when temperatures rise into the triple digits. With summer in full swing here in Los Angeles, the question arises, “How can we enjoy water in a time…

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