2017 National Grant Competition for Emerging
Professionals in Landscape Architecture

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Profile Bryan Obara
Rhodeside & Harwell | Alexandria, VA
University of Massachusetts, Amherst



What made you become interested in Landscape Architecture?
It started with gardening. My grandmother and I would sift through plant catalogues, deciding upon which unique Echinacea cultivar or hybrid tea rose to add to the collection.

What one thing inspires you and your designs?
Understanding the history and connections that people have with a space always serves as a starting point. I find it enriching and a welcomed challenge to uncover historic layers of a place and reinterpret into a contemporary context.

What do you think is the biggest challenge Landscape Architects face today?
Mastering the balance between beautiful and performative design. For a good reason, the field has been challenged to meet sustainable criteria in light of the more overarching challenge of climate change. It can be argued that in pursuit of this challenge, the cultural connections and aesthetic values of landscape have become secondary criteria—at a sacrifice to a comprehensively sustainable design.

What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
Do not fear what you do not know. Engage in discussions and read publications in science, art, and politics. You never know when a spark of creativity may ignite.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Toiling away in the community garden and likely still experimenting with designs that account for climate change—but this time through a more refined lens.


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Global climate change is impacting local conditions everywhere – how should Landscape Architects respond?

Landscape architects can work with scientists to identify culturally valued plants at risk of climate-change-induced early spring blooming.

Climate change has led to shifts in the phenology of many plants - resulting in earlier spring blooming for example. This bears an ecological impact if pollinators are not available at the time of bloom or as witnessed more recently with the National Cherry Blossom Festival - cultural and economic ramifications if flowering cherry tree blossoms are thwarted by early spring frosts. Approximately half of the blossoms were decimated by an arctic blast this year, leading to a less prolific bloom and fewer visitors than usual. Peak bloom for the flowering cherry has advanced 5 days on average in Washington D.C. (similarly in Japan) since 1921, threatening an estimated $150 million tourism industry and a regional icon. But scientists have successfully identified the molecular mechanism, the FLM (Flowering locus M) gene, which prevents plants from blooming in winter by responding to ambient temperature. Now, scientists can fine-tune the point of blooming by increasing the frequency that the FLM gene is read within a DNA sequence. The current focus has been on agricultural crops, and for the great cause of securing global food production into the future. However, this presents an opportunity for landscape architects to collaborate with scientists to identify other culturally valued plants noticeably impacted by this phonological mismatch - and to propagate new cultivars in tune with an advanced spring bloom. Ninety flowering cherry trees are replaced annually surrounding the National Mall, presenting an opportunity to integrate a later blooming flowering cherry tree cultivar that preserves the nation’s relics of international friendship.

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