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Healing Spaces…the Higher Calling of the Landscape Architect

ASLA EXPO 2016 – New Orleans

Last month David, Kyle and I traveled to New Orleans for the Annual ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects) National Expo.  The three of us had a great time together as we explored this iconic city and enjoyed tasty food, colorful music and colonial architecture….so much culture!  This was my first LA conference, and I came back inspired!  So many great people who care deeply about their craft….the vocation of creating space with purpose.   Before the conference, we could choose the sessions we would attend…and with so many options it wasn’t easy to narrow down the choices.   One session, however, just jumped off the page and as I thought about it I was more than a little intrigued.

Because of the crazy pace of life, I can easily overlook opportunities to be intentional…with the people around me…with my work…with those I care deeply about.  As Landscape Architects, we are tasked with the job of creating outdoor spaces that inspire…while at the same time fulfilling some practical purpose.   The session I had so looked forward to attending was about to start, and I was a little surprised at how many people had packed into room 356 .  good thing I had arrived early…I hate sitting in the back of the room…I was comfortably nestled on the front row, directly in front of the podium.  There were three presenters, all Landscape Architects with a wealth of knowledge.  The first presenter, Todd Degner, looked to be about my age, the others were quite a bit older…more experienced, as they say!  What Todd Shared left the room absolutely silent, and everyone knew without the shadow of a doubt that this room was holy ground, at least for the remainder of the session.

David and Kyle with some REALLY good eats!

David and Kyle with some REALLY good eats!

The topic….“Architects of Healing : Mending Life and Landscape in a Broken World”.   There is no way for me to fully share what all happened over the next ninety minutes.   What I took away from this profoundly powerful session was that we as Landscape Architects have a responsibility…better yet a Calling!  A spiritual calling….to be intentional about the spaces we are commissioned to design and build.  I’ve always been very intentional about getting to know my clients, whether it was when I was designing and building  homes in the Dominican Republic or landscapes in East Texas.   Now I was sitting before a group of professionals who not only believed in the same things I did but were confident in the power that ‘PLACE’ can have and the part it plays in the healing process.   Virginia Burt was also incredibly compelling with her research backed stories of the power of place to heal.   There were plenty of other highlights over the weekend for sure…and I will likely share more about what I learned, however, all other take-a-ways pale in comparison to the gravity of those ninety minutes.

I challenge you to contemplate about why a specific place makes you feel a certain way.   What emotions fill your soul…and why??   Maybe the space reminds you of a place of your childhood….the memories may be really positive or they may not be so good.  Maybe its the smell of lavender that reminds you of tender moments in your grandmothers garden…maybe its the way the light filters through the spring blooms of the dogwoods that takes you back to memories of your childhood lake house.  As Design professionals, we have regular opportunities to ask probing questions and practice the art of listening…and not just to what is said  but often to all the other non verbal communication cues.  Landscape Architects can play the part of counselor and healer through a keen sense of understanding the human spirit and  being willing to feel…and connect with another humanBEING…as a humanBEING.  I have been forever changed as an Architect and the belief that SPACE posses a deeper, spiritual potential to HEAL alters the way I look at my vocation.

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