Design in a Pandemic: The Great Outdoors

garden space

Urban garden design by Kathleen Bogaski, LSU landscape architecture professional in residence.

Landscape architects have long been at the forefront of city planning efforts, national and international investment in public spaces, and involved in the growing concern for the future of green spaces. When scientific research demonstrated that transmission of the COVID-19 virus is diminished outdoors, spaces such as parks, yards, and urban greenways were reimagined to become classrooms, offices, meeting locations, and more – safer settings for in-person interaction.

Landscape architecture has always explored the way outdoor spaces can be modified and used more creatively, but the pandemic has made clearer how absolutely essential well-designed public parks, community greenspaces, trails, waterfronts, etc. are to our health, well-being, and social interaction.

In less than a year we have observed a transformation of many public spaces, said Mark Boyer, director of the LSU Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture. “The pandemic may have brought about a shift in the thinking about infrastructural space (streets and parking lots) and how it can be used or repurposed to serve pedestrians and diners rather than vehicles,” he said.

“Hopefully those who are decision makers in city government will realize the importance of investing in the development of public space in historically under-invested neighborhoods and communities who bore a disproportionate burden of loss of life during the pandemic.”

“The pandemic has brought about a shift in the thinking about infrastructural space.”

“With more people working from home and less time commuting, people are using green space like parks and trails to exercise and safely socialize more frequently,” said Haley Blakeman, assistant professor of landscape architecture.

Blakeman has spent her career advancing city planning efforts from the community to national scale. During her ten years in leadership roles at the Center for Planning Excellence—a nonprofit honored with ASLA’s 2009 Olmsted Award—she dedicated her work to resiliency in climate change. In Louisiana, she has led essential work in over 25 communities. She has a progressive view of landscape architects as community leaders.

“Access to these outdoor spaces is now, and will continue to be, critical in the future,” she said. Many LSU landscape architecture alumni firms are now leading the design of public works projects with long-term implications.

The pandemic has impacted how people are using personal outdoor spaces as well.

People are turning to their yards for comfort, as safe social meeting spaces, for solitude – everything –  said Joseph Richardson (BLA 2008). His firm Joseph Richardson Landscape Architecture (JRLA) in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region focuses on residential landscape design, and has seen an increase in business since the pandemic hit the U.S.

“With vacations on hold and families spending so much time at home, many of our clients wanted to move forward with turning their outdoor spaces into entertainment sanctuaries,” he said. “If anything, landscape architects are more in demand because clients are more comfortable conducting meetings outdoors. We’ve incorporated a number of putting greens and bocce courts into our designs this past year, and have some exciting projects in the works for 2021.”

Private outdoor spaces have been transformed into sanctuaries, during a year in which many have been in isolation. Even after the pandemic has passed, designers anticipate that this experience will have permanently altered the way we as a society work and play.

One thing is for certain: outdoor spaces will not be overlooked in the future.