Thomas Woltz Sheds Light on Green Space With Feb. 6 Lecture

Thomas Woltz and his firm, NBW, is designing the urban green space in New York City’s Hudson Yards project.

When Dallas thinks about public green space, the first thought that bubbles up is our scarcity of it. Sure, we’ve tried to bring more public spaces to our urban core with great, though expensive, outcomes. With a city whose built environment weighs heavily on the side of car culture, how do you add green space that adds value to pedestrian and commuter, alike? It’s a problem that renowned landscape architect Thomas Woltz has puzzled through, again and again. CandysDirt.com was afforded the unique opportunity to get Woltz’s perspective ahead of his 7 p.m. lecture with the Dallas Architecture Forum at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Horchow Auditorium.

Tickets for this lecture are $20 for general admission, $15 for DMA members, and $5 for students (with ID). Tickets can be purchased at the door before the lecture. No reservations are needed to attend Forum lectures. Dallas Architecture Forum members receive free admission to all regular Forum lectures as a benefit of membership, and AIA members can earn one hour of CE credit for each lecture. For more information on The Dallas Architecture Forum, visit www.dallasarchitectureforum.org or call 214-764-2406.

Thomas Woltz

As principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), a 45-person firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia and New York City, Woltz has infused narratives of the land into the places where people live, work and play, deepening the public’s enjoyment of the natural world and inspiring environmental stewardship. NBW projects create models of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture within areas of damaged ecological infrastructure and working farmland, yielding hundreds of acres of reconstructed wetlands, reforested land, native meadows and flourishing wildlife habitat.

Presently, Thomas and NBW are entrusted with the design of major public parks across the United States, Canada and New Zealand. These projects include Memorial Park in Houston, Hudson Yards in New York City, NoMA Green in Washington DC, Cornwall Park in Auckland, the Aga Khan Garden in Alberta, Canada, and three parks in Nashville, including Centennial Park.

Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee

“Thomas Woltz has the unusual distinction of a being a landscape architect who has designed residential, corporate and public projects. He brings a unique approach to landscape design by pursuing thorough research to understand the ecology and history of an area as the basis for the design,” stated Forum executive director Nate Eudaly. “Because his goal is to move beyond just decorating the environment to improving the underlying eco-system and bringing forth the history of an area to create an identity that draws people from various backgrounds, he has been called a visionary and has attracted wide acclaim for his work.”

Woltz will speak today, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m., with check-in and a complimentary reception beginning at 6:15 p.m., at the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Keep reading for our exclusive Q&A with the visionary landscape architect:

Dallas, like many other major urban cities, craves more public spaces, but struggles to find the land to create them. What are some unconventional strategies that cities can employ to increase public green space and help alleviate the overuse and demand on its existing public space?

Woltz: This is an excellent question for a contemporary practitioner of landscape architecture in the public realm, because there are so many great examples of this. You have on-structure projects that are generally built on existing infrastructure, say rail lines in case of Hudson Yards and Sunnyside in New York City – two of our projects that conform to unconventional strategies that increase public space. We are also working on Park Over GA400 in Atlanta that is built space on top of an existing highway. We also love the approach that the Houston Parks Board has taken to increasing public space – they have taken a deeper look at not just more public green space, but also at how those spaces are connected and who they serve – these projects are focused on the whole city, initially on the bayous that permeate the city and then on a greater grid that uses many ‘left over’ spaces, utility right-aways, etc.

The Trust for Public Land also is very active in working to ensure that every citizen in urban areas has access to a public park within a mile or less. By looking not just at the number or size of parks but also how they are being used, what we call the ‘program’ of public space. Of course a wholistic look at the park system as a whole ensures a better chance at a healthy life for all citizens of a city.

Dallas has seen its fair share of droughts, causing water shortages and leaving trees and lawns suffering for months afterward. Additionally, pools are a popular feature in Dallas luxury estates that also require a great deal of water to use and maintain. From a design standpoint what are some ways that owners of large estates can help conserve water while still maintaining beautiful, grand landscapes? 

Woltz: This is tough question – the easy answer is in order to conserve water you plant native species. In general, plants from a certain region are adapted to particular environments and thus are able to withstand extreme fluctuations better than non-native, deeper roots and other interesting biological responses. We understand the pleasure of a lawn both aesthetically and from a user perspective, however too often they take more space than needed for recreation. It is a relative easy medium to maintain, or at least crews are used to a certain type of maintenance regime. From a design perspective we have to consider, aesthetically and conceptually speaking, what a beautiful or grand landscape is, what it looks like. And then of course how we help educate our clients. Gardens are dynamic systems and finding beauty in change, some predictable and some less so, is exciting and gets us closer nature, to a seductiveness and a grace.

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