National Design Awards Announces Landscape Architecture Winners

June 1, 2011 by


Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s Lurie Garden, Millenium Park, Chicago. Plantsman: Piet Oudolf. Theater Set Designer: Robert Israel.

Urban gardens are featured prominently among the designs of landscape architects selected to receive the 2011 Landscape Architecture Award, part of the National Design Awards. Seattle-based landscape-architecture practice, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol is this year’s recipient of the award, given to an individual or firm for exceptional and exemplary work in urban planning or park and garden design. The other two finalists include Tom Leader, Principal of Tom Leader Studio, and Margie Ruddick of Margie Ruddick Landscape Design.


Gustafson Guthrie Nichol’s North End Parks, Boston. Project landscape architect: Crosby, Schlessinger, Smallridge. Photo, Charles Mayer.

Led by three women, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol offers, according to the award’s website, “special experience in designing high-use landscapes in complex, urban contexts. The landform of each space is carefully shaped to feel serenely grounded in its context and comfortable at all times, whether bustling with crowds, offering moments of contemplation, or doing both at once.” The firm boasts prominent projects including the Lurie Garden in Chicago, the Smithsonian’s Kogod Courtyard in Washington, D.C., and the new Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Campus in Seattle.


Narrative Walk, Stamford University Medical School, Tom Leader Studio. Photo: Bruce Damonte.

Last March I walked the grounds of the Stanford University Medical School campus with my good friend and former college roommate, Dr. Karla Kirkegaard, Professor and Chair of the University’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. I snapped photos of the large raised planter boxes covered in glossy polished stone and inscribed with photos and text about the Kirkegaard lab’s famous research, part of the University’s Narrative Walk.


Narrative Walk planters inscribed with text and photos of Medical School lab research projects. Photo: Robin Plaskoff Horton.

The designer of the installation is one of this year’s award finalists, Tom Leader, of Tom Leader Studio, a Berkeley, CA-based collaborative design office is rooted in the spirit of craft and collaboration.


Close-up of planter featuring Dr. Kirkegaard’s research at Stanford University Medical School.

Leader Studio focuses on building communal places for real people manifested in projects like Railroad Park in Birmingham, AL. Leader, former partner of Peter Walker and Partners, has led award-winning projects including Longacres Park in Seattle, WA, and Asahikawa Riverfront Park in Hokkaido, Japan.

One of my favorites below, Margie Ruddick’s Urban Garden Room is, according to the designer, the first permanent installation of a living sculpture. The Durst Organization commissioned Margie Ruddick and WRT to create a winter garden for the Bank of America Tower, at One Bryant Park.

Working with artist/sculptor Dorothy Ruddick, they created an immersive green environment designed to make visitors like they have stepped into the natural world within the city. One can walk through the space, which contains four sculptures ranging in height from the 25-foot high arch to a seven-foot high vertical, while observing a mosaic of plantings established by Mosaiculture International de Montreal, the Canadian firm that fabricated the sculpture. Urban Garden’s sculptural form was inspired, says Ruddick, by the clients’ desire to have something “natural” in the winter garden, by the tunnels and vertical surfaces of Central Park, and by the scent and feel of the fern canyons of Oregon.


Ruddick’s Queen’s Plaza, Long Island, scheduled for completion fall 2011. Urban Design: Marpillero Pollack Architects.

Margie Ruddick’s work integrates ecology and culture, infrastructure and art. Her firm’s projects include the Shillim Retreat in India and the Living Water Park in China. Ruddick is the author of the forthcoming book What Are We Doing Here, Anyway? Adventures in Sustainable Design.

The National Design Awards, conceived in 1997 by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum to honor lasting achievement in American design, celebrates design in various disciplines as a vital humanistic tool in shaping the world, and seeks to increase national awareness of the impact of design through education initiatives.

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