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American Society of Landscape Architects


June 2007 Issue

Healing Through Play
A tsunami-ravaged community designs and builds its own playground with the help of a landscape architect.

By Katherine Melcher, ASLA

“…the preservation (or restoration) of communal forms of life must become a lasting concern, not only for those charged with healing the wounds of acute disaster but for those charged with planning a truly human future.”

—Kai T. Erikson,

Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood

Healing Through Play Katherine Melcher, ASLA

When I first heard about the tsunami in December 2004, I wanted to go to Southeast Asia and help. But in the immediate frenzy that followed the tsunami, I knew I’d just be in the way. I’m not a doctor or emergency relief specialist. In the face of such a large disaster, what could a landscape architect really do to help?

Coming to the profession with a background in sociology and experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, I had considered landscape architecture a way to make visible, positive changes to our immediate environments. But in the three years I had spent working in a private firm, I had seen numerous projects get cut down to the minimal landscaping required for permitting. I had started thinking of landscape architecture as a luxury item and not as something important to people’s everyday lives.

So, a few months later, when I found a request on the Crisis Corps web site from a village in Thailand asking for a volunteer to help them design and build a playground, I knew I had to go. I left my job in San Diego, put most of my belongings in storage, and went to Thailand for the six-month project.

Eight of us Crisis Corps volunteers arrived in Bangkok in August 2005. Projects ranged from developing information databases to constructing housing with interlocking earth blocks to counseling youth who had lost family in the tsunami. After three days of orientation in Bangkok, we were driven to our new homes.

…To read the entire article, subscribe to LAM!

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