Design Alabama
Design Alabama


Landscape Architecture and Community


Landscape architecture encourages people to get out – to walk, to recreate, to dine outdoors, enjoy an outdoor concert, or simply take pleasure in a natural environment, notes landscape architect Joel Eliason, principal of Nimrod Long and Associates in Birmingham.

“Landscape architecture can and does affect the pace of our communities and our everyday lives,” he adds. “It creates spaces that encourage conversation and people watching. In the best examples, landscape architecture can help us break down the physical and cultural barriers we put up between ourselves and our communities.”

Eliason points to Birmingham as having a long and rich legacy of good landscape architecture. An example he cites is Vulcan Park, built in the 1930s under the WPA.

“We’ve been fortunate to work on Vulcan Park for many years. That legacy of community involvement continues and the work we’ve been part of is still very much a community effort. It’s an extraordinary history for any park and when you look at the range of uses at Vulcan – park, museum, concert venue, event space, walking trail, educational programs, weddings – you see the value and the potential that landscape architecture has in bringing people together.”

David Hill, Auburn University’s chair and associate professor of landscape architecture, says landscape architecture creates some of the most public spaces in our cities. People are not “locked out” of landscape architecture, unlike privatized buildings that require access to be mediated by someone, he observes.

“Of all the disciplines in the built environment, landscape architects work in the public realm,” Hill says. Landscape architecture’s role is holistic – creating exterior rooms where people gather is open and inclusive.

He identifies examples of community-driven landscape architecture. In Headland, a small town near Dothan is a town green where a parade route wraps around it and people gather for festivals and other events.

Hill previously worked for New York City-based D.I.R.T. Studio – a firm known for turning derelict industrial sites into vibrant public spaces. While there he managed a project that transformed a decommissioned U.S. Naval shipyard into the Urban Outfitters headquarters.

The $100 million project included redesigning a dry dock into a dog run, in keeping with the company’s “bring your dog to work” policy. It’s a fitting example of how corporations can use landscape architecture to create community for their workers.


-Article By Jessica Armstrong

-Images are student work under the direction of Professor David Hill at Auburn University and are courtesy of William Nix (1), Felipe Palacios (2) and Preston Frankstone (3)



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