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Tribute: Grant Richard Jones (1938-2021)

Grant Richard Jones, FASLA / LinkedIn

This obituary was provided by Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners:

Grant Richard Jones, FASLA, poet laureate of landscape architecture and co-founder of the Seattle firm of Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects, passed away June 21, 2021 at his cabin within sight and sound of the Similkameen River, near Oroville, Washington.

He will be remembered for his groundbreaking landscape architecture work, his commitment to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), and for advancing the landscape architecture profession through interviews, teaching, and mentoring. And his lifelong pursuit of melding language and landscape is manifest in more than a dozen volumes of poetry.

Grant was born August 29, 1938 in Richmond Beach, north of Seattle. His father, Victor N. Jones, was a noted Seattle architect. He spent his much of his youth on the Salish Sea, rowing its waters and playing on the tide flats below the family home. Those days amongst the kelp and cobble are reflected in his poems and represent the basis of his understanding of nature, natural processes, and the intrinsic beauty of the land and sea around him.

Jones received a Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Washington (UW) in 1961. He stayed at the UW to study under poet Theodore Roethke, whose own work was noted for introspection, rhythm and natural imagery. With Roethke’s death in 1963, UW landscape architecture professor and mentor Richard Haag suggested Jones enroll at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design where he received his master’s degree in 1966. At Harvard, Grant theorized that every natural landscape was comprised of a series of geologic, biologic, and hydrologic elements that could be defined using a combination of quantitative and qualitative measurements. He posited that the composite parts of landscapes were a type of language - similar to the morphology, syntax, and phonetics that
comprised poetry.

In 1965 he created an early FORTRAN program that coupled the rigorous landscape assessment of tangible landscape elements with the intangibles of aesthetic valuation. Jones won Harvard’s Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship in 1966. He and fellow UW architecture graduate Ilze Jones, spent two years travelling through South America and Europe studying how cultures and landscapes evolved and adapted together. Upon their return to Seattle, they co-founded the firm Jones & Jones in December 1969.

In 1972, the office had an opportunity to apply Grant’s ideas. As he noted in a 2014 interview: “One of our early projects at Jones & Jones was a plan for a river, the Nooksack River in northwest Washington state. The Whatcom County Park Board was looking for new lands to add to a park system along the river. The Park Board wasn’t our only client; we felt the river itself was our client. One of our first steps was to investigate the health of the river; to map and describe the places where it strongly expressed natural process and form; where rare examples of that expression had been damaged, where the river remained pristine. The questions we asked the Nooksack River included many related to resilience. Where could the river absorb change? Which segments and reaches offered resilient corridors for animals, including insects, microbes, and fungi? Questions of resilience were an integral part of what it meant to design for – and with – a river.” The Nooksack River Plan was the first to examine the intrinsic qualities of a river and it received an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1974.

Grant’s work on the Nooksack would be expanded by Jones & Jones into a broader category of visual resource assessment, looking at the aesthetic impacts of transmission lines, highways, greenways, and even forest clear cuts on the landscape. In 1978, Jones & Jones was hired by the Woodland Park Zoo to develop a new master plan.

Instead of the usual taxonomic breakdown of animals by type (Reptile House, Primate House, etc.), the master plan proposed to eliminate barred exhibits and reorganize the zoo based on bioclimatic zones. By utilizing Leslie Holdridge’s Life Zones diagram, graph that organized evapotranspiration, precipitation, and humidity leg by latitudinal regions and altitudinal belts, Jones & Jones sought to visually and seamlessly bring people and animals together in the landscape habitat of each animal. Bars were replaced with simulated embankments that replicated the geology of that animal’s native home. The Woodland Park Zoo Master Plan won the ASLA National President’s Award of Excellence in Landscape Architectural Design in 1980, and the African Savanna Habitat won the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Design Award in 1981. This design philosophy, called “landscape immersion” continues to be the standard of zoo design today.

The Intrinsic Landscape Aesthetic Resource Information System (ILARIS) is a geographic information system (GIS) model based on Grant’s FORTRAN program at Harvard and also building on the work and legacy that followed the 1972 Nooksack Plan. Jones & Jones was hired in 2002 to develop a system to evaluate and protect important landscape features of Puget Sound and its near-shore areas to aid governments and non-profits in their land use decision-making processes. ILARIS utilized the power of GIS to create overlays of biological, hydrological, cultural, geological, and areas of aesthetic importance identify high-priority areas for preservation and restoration. ILARIS won the 2006 ASLA Honor Award in the Research Category.

Grant’s reading of landscapes is evident in two different highway projects. Paris Pike, a historic 12-mile road through bluegrass and horse country in Kentucky, needed expanding. For decades the community had fought the proposed 4-lane highway that would visually and physically damage the landscape. Grant proposed splitting the highway into two independent, parallel pieces that could be threaded through the landscape with minimal disruption. The resulting project won the Environmental Award of Excellence from the Federal Highway Administration in 2003. The second project, US Highway 93 ran 55-miles between Evaro and Polson Montana. It crossed tribal lands as well as traditional migration routes of elk, bighorn sheep, deer and bears. These migration routes, coupled with the straightness of the highway, led to the decline of species and numerous car/animal fatalities. Jones & Jones rerouted the highway to more closely match the landform characteristics, identified the migration routes, and proposed protected animal crossing locations over and under the proposed highway. Today, forty of these wildlife crossings provide safe passage for migrating animals. This project won the Transportation Planning Excellence Award from the Federal Highway Administration in 2008.

Further recognition of the importance of Grant Jones and Jones & Jones to the profession of landscape architecture came in 2003 when the office was named the first recipient of ASLA’s Firm of the Year.

Grant Jones was named a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1980. He was inducted into the Roll of Honor at the University of Washington’s College of Built Environments in 2015. In 2016, he was the first recipient of the Landscape Architecture Foundation Medal, an award conveyed to a landscape architect for distinguished work over a career in applying the principles of sustainability to landscapes.

Grant retired from Jones and Jones in 2009 and began his second career as a gentleman farmer and poet in the Okanogan Valley of North Central Washington. On Coyote Springs Farm, he and his wife Chong-Hui Jones, restored a century-old farm and developed the River Braids Arboretum, a 20-acre series of tree plantings that mimic the interweaving of cottonwoods and sand bars flanking the nearby Similkameen River.

Grant said “Writing poetry has helped me to connect with the intrinsic because I have to let each place tell me its story. Poems evolve from situations, and the poems themselves become instructive – it’s scholarly research of a different form. I’ve treated poetry as a tool that gives me a better chance of working responsibly as a partner with a place.” He formed a poetry writing group with his Okanogan neighbors: the orchardists, farmers, and ranchers who make the Valley their home. He encouraged them to use their voices to tell of their connections to their landscapes. The group has now printed four volumes of poetry about the Okanogan.

I've been this way all my life
I’ve been this way all my life;
I listened to rivers, learned to sing.
Sat with ancient cedars in the rain
Watched raindrops be rivulets in fissures of bark
Transposed, transfigured, transmigrated,
Become a river.
It isn't so easy to be a river.
Even though trees talk to you, widen your span;
And you whisper back under their arches,
People can't hear you do this.
But birds seem to know.
Rocks breathe.
Peaks and mesas undress.
Talus blooms rare butterflies. Pikas whistle.
Mountains watch for signs of respect
To cry when ignored, even moan.
So I share what I know
With those who fly,
Swim, crawl and walk,
Sway, shimmer, sough and quake.
But those who talk out loud
Have lost their ears for this kind of music.
I'm a shaman,
Share what I see, what I hear.
I write poems as a way to converse without ridicule.
The land gives my inner voice,
Feels the weight of me out on the ledges.
The river covers my tracks in the sand.
Grant Jones
Coyote Springs Farm
Mouth of the Canyon of the Little Mosquito
August 13, 2015 

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