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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2004 Issue

Seeing the Buildings for the Trees
Landscape architects led the charge to create an agency-wide design guide for the U.S. Forest Service. Now can they usher in a new era of sustainable design?
By Michael Leccese

Like its sometime rival the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service has a proud design legacy reflected in structures from scenic parkways to rustic, stone-and-timber visitor centers built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. But by the mid-1990s, agency leaders saw this heritage being lost because the design quality of new facilities did not meet earlier standards.

Landscape architects led the charge to create an agency-wide design guide for the U.S. Forest Service. Now can they usher in a new era of sustainable design? Drawing from "The Built Environment Image Guide"

This is no small matter. The nation's 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands include more than 50,000 structures, from backcountry toilets and informational kiosks to regional administrative offices.

"The lack of quality and consistency in our recreational facilities was harming our image as a conservation agency," says James S. Bedwell, ASLA, chief landscape architect for the Forest Service from 1996 to 2000. "You would go some places and find they were doing a really nice job, and other places were just putting out porta-potties. And a group of us said, 'What can you do about this?'"

In 1997, Bedwell and other agency landscape architects and administrators became leaders in a two-year, $750,000 process that resulted in an agency-wide, 275-page design manual called The Built Environment Image Guide for the National Forests and Grasslands. Referred to as the BEIG, the document is possibly the first federal agency-wide design guideline.

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