Updates from ASLA


ASLA's 125th: History of the Illinois Chapter

Jens Jensen at Lincoln Memorial Garden, 1935 / Lincoln Memorial Garden Archives; From The Landscape Architecture Heritage of Illinois by Malcolm D. Aairns, Dept. of Landscape Architecture, Ball State University, 1993

By Susan Ragaishis and Jim Forrester 

A look into the history of landscape architecture in Illinois is a breathtaking journey into outdoor spaces, natural shorelines, and famously crafted environments. The state's founders placed great value on the natural environment and created sweeping laws to protect outdoor spaces such as the Lake Michigan lakefront and the many forest preserves throughout the state.

The rapid expansion of ASLA membership before WWI, with accompanying by-law changes, resulted in the establishment of officially organized local groups or chapters. In 1916, under the direction of O. C. Simonds, 12 members organized the Mid-West Chapter. In 1940, Chicago formed a chapter, and in 1963 entered a partnership with the adjacent chapters of Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, known as the North Central States Chapter.

In 1972, the Illinois Chapter (ILASLA) was officially formed. Its first president, William Nelson, FASLA, 1970-73, was the author of the widely popular book Landscaping Your Home, which has sold thousands of copies and has long been considered one of the premier books in the field. Early presidents that followed include James Gamble and John R. Cook III, who are still active in the chapter.

National ASLA presidents Debra L. Mitchell, FASLA (1992-1993), and Vincent Bellafiore, FASLA (1995-1996), were members of the Illinois Chapter, and Susan B. Jacobson (1988-1989) remains active in both ILASLA and ASLA.

Illinois Chapter membersAnn Vigor, ASLA, Gary Kesler, FASLA, Jerry Soesbe, FASLA, Susan Jacobson, FASLA

Landscapes in Illinois have long been designed by industry trailblazers such as Frederick Law Olmsted; Jens Jensen; O.C. Simonds; Alfred Caldwell; Dan Kiley; Stanley White, FASLA, a University of Illinois Professor; Hideo Sasaki, Peter Walker; and Richard Haag.

Notable projects include:

  • Jensen’s designs for Humboldt and Columbus Parks, and Garfield Park Conservatory
  • Simonds’ redesign of Graceland Cemetery (earlier developed by Swain Nelson and H.W.S. Cleveland)
  • Caldwell’s designs of the Lily Pool in Lincoln Park and Skyline Park, which surrounds the 70-story Lake Point Tower
  • The Morton Arboretum, designed by landscape architects Clarence E. Godshalk, O.C. Simonds, and botanist Charles Sprague Sargent
  • The grounds of Illinois Institute of Technology, by Caldwell, Mies van der Rohe, and Peter Lindsay Schaudt

Frederick Law Olmsted also left his mark in Illinois. In the 1850s, he laid out South Park -- now Washington and Jackson Parks and the Midway Plaisance -- and designed Riverside, a suburban village along the Des Plaines River. In 1893, he planned the World’s Columbian Exposition, working with Daniel Burnham and the country’s leading architects.

More recent projects of note in Illinois include:

  • Millennium Park, designed by Terry Guen and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
  • Lurie Garden, designed by Piet Oudolf, Robert Israel, Nichol, and Guen
  • The River Walk by Sasaki, Jacobs/Ryan Associates
  • Riverwalk East by site
  • The Uptown Normal Circle in Normal, Illinois, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

Illinois Chapter members in residential and park design are also thriving throughout the state. Industry wealth and state monies put aside for park development allow many firms and sole practitioners to focus on private and public projects.

Illinois is a state full of opportunities that persistently attract talented landscape architects. With a motto like Chicago’s "Urbs in Horto" (City in a Garden), the entire state of Illinois continues to be a haven for outdoor space, and the Illinois Chapter is dedicated to supporting the landscape architects who design those spaces.

Susan Ragaishis is executive director of ILASLA and Jim Forrester is the communications co-chair of ILASLA.  


"50 Years in Retrospect: Brief Account of the Origin and Development of the ASLA," by Bremer W. Pond Landscape Architecture Magazine, Vol. 40, No. 2 (January, 1950), pp. 59-66

Landscape Architect Performs, Case Studies Illustrating the Impact of Landscape Architecture Publisher Carrie Woblen Meade, 2017, Landscape Architecture Foundation and Illinois American Society of Landscape Architects.

University of Illinois Archive information from Brenton H. and Jean B. Wadsworth Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture, Professor David L. Hays.

Illinois Institute of Technology Archive information from Ron Henderson, FASLA, Inaugural Director of Research, The Alphawood Arboretum at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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