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In the sea of cul-de-sacs and cookie-cutter developments that has come to characterize North America’s suburbs, there is a cultural shift under way, one that is making conservation and sustainability an integral part of the everyday suburban residential environment. That shift is precisely what inspired Suburbia Transformed, a provocative competition and exhibition mounted this year by the James Rose Center for Landscape Architectural Research and Design in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The competition, according to the call for entries, aims to recognize “solutions to the ubiquitous small-lot, detached single-family, residential condition in the hope that we may better understand how to transform suburbia.” The 10 residential landscapes honored in the competition—and showcased in a companion exhibition at the Rose Center this past fall—were chosen by jury from among a variety of submissions by garden designers, landscape architects, architects, and homeowners from around the country, and internationally.
The guiding spirit of Suburbia Transformed—and the research center’s namesake—is the iconoclastic landscape architect and theorist James Rose (1913–1991), most often remembered as one of the three Harvard students who rebelled against their Beaux Arts training in the 1930s and who helped to usher the profession of landscape architecture into the modern era. “Rose incorporated a conservation ethic into a modern design aesthetic for the residential garden,” says Dean Cardasis, the director of the James Rose Center, which is housed in Rose’s 1953 residence and has been open to the public since 1993. In Rose’s view, successful residential environments are “neither landscape nor architecture, but both; neither indoors, nor outdoors, but both.”
The success of the first competition has prompted a second one, with the call for entries in spring 2010. “We will continue with the theme Suburbia Transformed,” says Cardasis, “because this subject hasn’t been fully exploited yet. While many people are doing ‘green design,’ we feel it is also important to recognize inspiring, sculptural, and artistic experiences in the suburban landscape.” For more information visit jamesrosecenter.org.