Decade after decade, books appear that are full of wonderful photographs, drawings and sometimes detailed descriptions of Washington’s architectural legacy. No wonder that the city’s edifices dominate imagery recall.
But you might be among those who focus on and remember something else: the form, quality and amount of public parkland and urban spaces around and between the city’s iconic structures, or threading through the city’s fabric. For some people, Washington’s landscapes are no less memorable than its architecture. And maintaining landscapes can be just as challenging and costly.
Landscape designs and landscape experiences in the nation’s capital are incredibly numerous and diverse. Yet appreciating them requires paying attention to each site’s unique attributes, some changing with the season. Landscape characteristics include site shape and topography; pathways, paving patterns and textures; trees, shrubs, flowers and ground covers; water features; and landscape structures, such as colonnades, pergolas, fences and walls.
To help local citizens and millions of annual visitors explore, understand and better appreciate the city’s landscapes, and not just its buildings, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently launched its “Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C.” The online guide is “mobile-friendly” (
) and comprehensive. With more than 800 photographs, it documents 76 sites in D.C. and Arlington. The 76 sites are within 16 distinct geographical areas, and each area constitutes a potential tour.
Twenty experienced landscape architects worked with the ASLA to select these historic and modern landscapes. Acting in effect as individual online guides, they wrote descriptions and commentaries to explain each site from a landscape architect’s point of view. The goal was to show how design influences the way people interact with or even feel about a site.
The guide identifies many iconic, well-known sites associated with memorials, monumental buildings or landmark urban locations, such as the World War II Memorial and the National Cathedral. Some sites — Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens — are natural parklands. One of the 16 places in the guide is not really a site, but rather D.C.’s bicycle network.
A number of areas are outside the city center. And a few were selected in part because they embody and exemplify state-of-the-art landscape sustainability techniques and green infrastructure strategies such as water-cleansing wetlands, bioswales and pervious paving.