Strode-De Molfetta are guiding landscape architecture in new direction

Opinion: Depending upon the size and scope of a particular landscaping project, thinking ahead 25, 50 or even 100 years is challenging, but also brilliant.

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It’s always enlightening to discover and explore how today’s garden designs are evolving and moving in new directions. A lecture by two renowned landscape architects on Oct. 28 at Vancouver’s Robson Square was a great opportunity to learn more about some new ecological landscape trends.

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The University of B.C. SALA Garden Design Lecture committee and their sponsors bring in notable designers from around the world to share new perspectives with our local landscape architect community, as well as with landscape architect students and those already established in the industry.

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A married partnership, Hope Strode and Federico De Molfetta, who live in Switzerland and work throughout Europe, gave a leading-edge presentation on the new design benefits of connecting nature and the changing climate to each project. This could well be the future of garden design.

Federico De Molfetta and Hope Strode harmonize sites by bringing together the culture and ecology of each area.
Federico De Molfetta and Hope Strode harmonize sites by bringing together the culture and ecology of each area. jpg

Both Strode and De Molfetta bring a lot to the table in terms of horticultural architecture. She practises not only as an architect but also lectures and teaches landscape architecture in Italy, Switzerland and the U.S. Federico, in addition to his landscape architectural skills, has worked for the Lisbon Botanical Garden and for the Arnold Arboretum in the U.S.

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I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with them a few days after their lecture to get a better sense of how they approach their design process. I asked Strode about the opportunities for landscape architect students. She talked about the diversity of her students, both in age and demographics, and she pointed out she is seeing a good number of international students and slightly more females than males, which follows a similar trend in North American universities.

We also talked about the important role of landscape architecture in our communities, and she spoke very eloquently on the significant value good design brings to any landscape. Strode pointed out that the many layers of communication, between all parties involved in any broader community project, is vital. Dialogue is so important. Asking the right questions and listening to all points of view provide a better understanding of the core values and goals of each project.

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Federico De Molfetta and Hope Strode harmonize sites by bringing together the culture and ecology of each area.
Federico De Molfetta and Hope Strode harmonize sites by bringing together the culture and ecology of each area. jpg

When asked how she develops a final vision for any landscape design, Strode explained that it’s very complex and requires understanding the site and balancing both intuition and the desires of a client or community. It’s a matter of zooming in and zooming out in order to harmonize the ecological needs of a site with the character of the surrounding area and the culture of the community. This process takes time and requires digging deeper and deeper. There is no magic formula. It’s also a bit of a push-and-pull situation, so finding the right vision could come in one day or in three months.

Strode and De Molfetta are very much leading-edge when it comes to incorporating ecological design and adapting to a rapidly changing climate. One of the many challenges they face is the public’s acceptance of less-structured, ecological design, as opposed to a more traditional, neat and tidy look.

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As in nature, ecological design can be perceived as a bit messy. De Molfetta pointed out that when folks understand the larger picture and the importance of moving in this direction, they begin to accept this different design style. I was surprised and delighted to learn that when they finalize a design on paper, they create a model of the site in order to better understand the site’s complexities and to help the client visualize the design. De Molfetta emphasized the importance of maintaining the continuity of each site with the surrounding area. The context between the site and its surround is critical and must also fit in with the regional character.

During their lecture, they didn’t have enough time to talk about the pollinator and wildlife connection to their work, so I asked De Molfetta how this factor played a role. He explained that, if their design was implemented in the way they proposed, any wildlife inhabiting the edge of their designed plantings, whether along the perimeters of a forest or grasslands, they would find a great new place to reside and would begin populating the new landscaping.

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When starting a new project, De Molfetta noted that one of the first issues he looks at is drainage. With more extreme weather patterns, he believes this is an essential first step. Understanding how and where water flows is critical and capturing it for use in the landscape is very much a part of their design. As the climate becomes warmer, tree canopy cover is also a very important issue.

What impressed me was their forward-thinking approach in choosing trees and plants that will tolerate future warming trends. I was amazed at their long-range thinking. Depending upon the size and scope of a particular project, thinking ahead 25, 50 or even 100 years is challenging, but also brilliant. Selecting the right trees and plants for specific locations and gauging their ultimate growth pattern to achieve the best spatial relationships is an incredibly complex issue. I loved the way they emulated nature by locating certain plants, like evergreen euphorbias, so that they colonized specific areas over time.

Strode and De Molfetta are a very special team. They are guiding landscape architecture in a new direction. They not only design and adapt their designs on-site but revisit their sites over time to see the results of their incredible planning process. They harmonize sites by bringing together the culture and ecology of each area and by adapting it to the new reality of our changing climate. It was a brilliant lecture and a delight to meet this incredibly talented couple.

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