Women in the Dirt shows women landscape architects weave science, art, healing and activism into public and private lands in California. Seven leaders in the profession are profiled. Carolann Stoney directs.
The women discuss their greatest accomplishments, inspirations and challenges. Peers give community and historic perspectives.
Nature inspires, heals
You’ll feel transported to these private gardens, cityscapes, state and national parks. Bold projects like the Los Angeles River Basin will affect generations to come. Small designs like The Chase Garden make a modest home famous.
Mark W. Gray’s cinematography draws you in with soothing, often enigmatic landscapes.
“Spaces should be designed to give the most exquisite comfort,” says Isabelle Greene, granddaughter of legendary architect Henry Greene. Greene’s landscapes blend with natural ecosystems.
She designed the tranquil Lovelace Residence garden, creating a swimming pool so natural that a pair of mallard ducks nests there briefly each year. The garden becomes an extension of the surrounding old oak woodlands.
“I don’t believe in struggle,” Greene says. “The boldness of the risk in the garden comes through and makes it sweet and fresh each time.” She has been hailed for The Valentine Garden. A Zen-like calm fills this low maintenance, drought tolerant land filled with native succulents, trees and gravel paths.
Using water to inspire meditation and relaxation, Pamela Palmer is known for her simple, elegant design around The Blue Oak Residence in Sonoma. Planes of water reflect the blue oaks around the home, changing with each sunrise and sunset.
Palmer also designed the Horizon Garden right on the ocean. A steel and Lucite fence becomes a window on water and sky.
A modernist, Palmer says that “we need to create habitats instead of ornamental gardens.” Native plants draw beneficial birds and insects.
Andrea Cochran is known for her work at The Curran House, an affordable housing project in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District. The rooftop garden feels like a sanctuary, surrounded by Temple Bamboo along brick walls.
Cochran’s edgy, avant garde style graces Stone Edge Farm. The land holds a Zen spa, wild gardens, and a 15-foot-tall pyramid at the property’s edge.
She received a National Honor Award for Walden Studios, where she raised the property four feet above a flood plain to create terraces, vineyards and water elements around artist studios.
Born in El Salvador, Mia Lehrer is known for her community projects in Los Angeles and Orange County. She designed Vista Hermosa Park and kid-friendly environmental exhibits at Tree People.
Her largest project is The Los Angeles River Basin. A continuous greenway will be built along 32 miles of the concrete-encased river. New open spaces, parks and connections will welcome families and communities. Lehrer has held hundreds of community meetings to invite feedback and promote this “new face for the city.”
The biggest challenge in her work is global responsibility, Lehrer says.
Streets must become “beautiful places where people actually want to live part of their lives,” says Katherine Spitz. Spitz reflects the personality of each community in her streetscapes. “We need wider sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes.”
Her goal is to make Los Angeles “more aware of its citizens and its rich natural heritage.” Her designs grace Pico Boulevard and the University of California San Diego.
Both architect and landscape architect, Spitz also created The Chase Garden. The lush plantings around a middle class duplex appeared on the cover of Garden Design magazine.
Head of the largest woman-owned landscape architecture firm in California, Lauren Melendrez has overseen projects for the Los Angeles Zoo, Pasadena City Hall, The Civic Center Master Plan, and The Staples Center.
Melendrez is dedicated to transforming public spaces in a “car city.” Working for Los Angeles’ Redevelopment Agency in 1975, “I spent a lot of time trying to change attitudes.” She’s proud of her positive influence on decision- and policymaking.
“What really makes downtowns work are the sidewalks,” says Dan Rosenfeld, Senior Deputy for Economic Development, Sustainability and Mobility. “It’s not the buildings, it’s not the skyline. It’s the stuff that happens on the streets.” Sidewalk tables with umbrellas and other family-friendly features are arriving.
Originally an artist, Cheryl Barton studied fine arts and geology. She designed Rosie the Riveter Memorial Park in Richmond on the former site of the Kaiser Shipyards. Photos of World War II women welders, dubbed “riveters” by male welders, are displayed in an abstract ship under construction.
Barton left a prestigious landscape architecture firm to snag greater projects and more artistic freedom. She went on to design Rincon Park in San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Barton transformed the military base of Fort Baker into a conference center for global environmental issues. She loves to take the history of a place and update it.
Women in the Dirt opens with a quote from Kathryn Gustafson: “Designing a landscape is about connecting the body, soul and mind to the land itself.” (5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Women in the Dirt, you might enjoy: Urbanized; Eames: The Architect and the Painter.
Women in the Dirt 2011 / NR / 1 hour, 14 min
Cast Overview: Pamela Palmer, Andrea Cochran, Mia Lehrer, Isabelle Greene, Katherine Spitz, Lauren Melendrez, Cheryl Barton
Director: Carolann Stoney
Genre: Documentary, Environment