What’s Out There® Guidebooks



The Cultural Landscape Foundation


The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) What’s Out There guidebooks are concise, richly illustrated publications that provide overviews about the design history of mostly urban areas throughout the U.S., locates significant works of landscape architecture of each city on a map, and include 250-word essays and full-color photographs of each site. The guidebooks—usually more than 60-pages in length—are attractively designed and professionally printed as 8x8-inch, easily portable paperback books. The guidebooks are also available as free digital downloads. They derive from the What’s Out There database of nationally significant landscapes and their designers, and are created in tandem with the What’s Out There Weekend series of free, expert-led tours. Developed in collaboration with local partners, the guidebooks are intended for a diverse audience, including landscape architecture professionals and students, educators, tourists, and design enthusiasts. To date, thirteen guidebooks have been produced.


The What’s Out There guidebooks, the subject of this application, are an outgrowth of The Cultural Landscape Foundation’s (TCLF) What’s Out There (WOT) database, which launched in 2009. This free, searchable online database of historic designed landscapes currently features more than 1,900 site descriptions and 900 designer profiles, all carefully vetted. The database is profusely illustrated by more than 10,000 images, with new landscapes and designers added weekly. The What’s Out There program, which initially covered landscapes in the United States, was expanded in 2015 to include sites and designers in Canada. The guidebooks serve as both an independent resource and to buttress the WOT program in raising awareness about the interconnectedness and diversity of designed landscapes, provides a critical context for students and historians, inspires design professionals, and enhances local and regional heritage tourism efforts. The online database has also been optimized for iPhones and similar handheld devices and includes a feature called What’s Nearby, a GPS-enabled function that locates all sites in the database within a 25-mile radius of the user.

The What’s Out There guidebooks, thirteen so far, were also created to complement another WOT initiative: The What’s Out There Weekend program, begun in 2010, features free, expert-led tours of designed landscapes in selected cities and regions. The free tours are organized with site stewards and property managers and led by experts who describe the site’s design and its environmental and cultural history in terms that enable participants to understand and value the landscapes, designers, and cities in their midst.

In each What's Out There guidebook all of the sites are identified on a map keyed to reference the city’s design themes. Every site is illustrated with carefully curated, contemporary, full-color photographs submitted by professional photographers, landscape architecture professionals and students, site managers, and volunteers. These photographs illustrate the landscape’s vegetation, circulation, structures, water features, sculptural elements, and the surrounding context.

Every site included in the guidebook is described by an original 250-word essay, concisely ordered to present the history of the landscape, chronicle the design intent, and describe its current condition. Avoiding jargon and overly-technical language, these narratives are written to be understandable by the layperson while still elaborating on principles and concepts of landscape architecture. Each site description includes bulleted points on the side of the page that quickly summarizes the landscape’s style, type, designer(s) who shaped it from historic to contemporary, and related landscapes where applicable (e.g. The Back Bay Fens is part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace). The guidebook closes with a description of the What’s Out There Weekend program, provides information about further reading, and lists the partners for the initiative.

The guidebooks, along with the database and the tours, result from TCLF-managed partnerships with universities, advisory councils, public agencies, and preservation and design organizations. Through the university partnerships in particular, TCLF provides students with opportunities to research and document the sites and, during the Weekends, to participate in the tours themselves. For example, to create the Denver guidebook, TCLF collaborated with landscape architecture students at the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado Denver; invaluable assistance was provided by students at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech for the Richmond guidebook; and documentation of sites in Austin and Houston, along with other sites in Texas, was provided by students at all four university level landscape architecture programs in Texas.

Measuring 8x8 inches, the guidebooks are between 50 and 70 pages in length. An introductory narrative provides background on the What’s Out There initiative, describes the design history of the region, and focuses on a particular theme relevant to that location. For example, the Miami guidebook provides information about the Mediterranean style, while the Richmond guidebook references Colonial Revival and the one produced for Los Angeles describes the city’s Postmodern legacy.

In addition to guidebooks to specific cities, TCLF has produced specialized guides. For example, following the overwhelmingly positive response to the Los Angeles guidebook and tours in 2013 – and calls for a repeat event – in 2014 TCLF produced a guidebook and tours about the work of landscape architect Ralph Cornell. The so-called “Olmsted of Los Angeles” did more to shape the city in the past century than any other landscape architect. The guidebook, which includes a biography and details about more than a dozen significant and influential Cornell designs from a career that spanned more than 50 years.

In addition, in 2013 TCLF created a guidebook to work done at San Francisco’s 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which was established in 1972. Many recently completed projects by practitioners including the Office of Cheryl Barton, CMG Landscape Architecture, Hargreaves Associates, SURFACEDESIGN, INC., and Stephen Wheeler Landscape Architects were featured, along with those by earlier practitioners, such as the Office of Lawrence Halprin.

Though produced specifically for the What’s Out There Weekend, the guidebooks are designed to be “evergreen,” remaining accessible and relevant as travel and scholarly resources in perpetuity. Extending the research and documentation well beyond the actual event, the printed guidebooks are available for purchase from TCLF’s website for a cost of $10 and are also available at select institutions featured in the Weekend. The guidebooks are also available as free digital downloads from TCLF’s website. To date, more than 24,000 guidebooks have been distributed in print and digital form.

TCLF’s What’s Out There guidebooks, database and Weekend activities are conceived to help landscape architects, allied professionals, and the general public understand and value our shared landscape legacy. The ever-expanding guidebook series is a fundamental aspect of this initiative, one that makes important information available to the public in an attractive and easily understood format.

“Wonderful tools to promote landscape architecture to the public.The tours they do in different cities are really great.”

- 2016 Awards Jury


Project Lead:

  • Charles Birnbaum, FASLA

Project Team:

  • Courtney Spearman
  • Matthew Traucht, Associate ASLA
  • Scott Craver
  • Nord Wennerstrom

Principal Photography:

  • Barrett Doherty

Graphic Design:

  • Mark Oviatt
  • Oviatt Media