Did you know that April is World Landscape Architecture Month? The discipline of landscape architecture is incredibly diverse, with each practitioner bringing their own lens and interpretation to the study and practice. While we are not an MLA program, there is much overlap between ecological design and landscape architecture, and many members of the Conway community who have a foot in each world. This month we’re taking the opportunity to highlight the talented members of our staff who, among their many impressive skills and accomplishments, are also licensed landscape architects.

Conway faculty member Kim Erslev, who is both an architect and a landscape architect, cares deeply about marrying buildings to their sites in ways that respect site ecology and inspire the people who will use the buildings. Kim’s professional work is dedicated to creating designs that connect humans with the inherent power and beauty of natural systems. She has worked with several design firms on a diversity of projects including: the design of the Micmac Heritage Center in Northern Canada, the Jerusalem Science Museum, the Eric Carle Museum, and the design of a new town destroyed by a volcanic mudslide in Colombia, South America. Her current design practice focuses on the design of super-insulated passive solar homes, ecological landscapes, and co-housing communities.

Kim Erslev, Faculty, Landscape Design + Graphics, The Conway School; Green Architect + Landscape Architect, Salmon Falls Ecological Design, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts

As a practicing architect and landscape architect Kim has more than thirty years of experience with sustainable landscape and architectural design. In her practice, she has observed that many architects would benefit from greater knowledge of ecology and landscape. She points out that the practical design experience students gain at Conway serves architects well:

Architects will have a much more important role to play with this added expertise. Their buildings will have more resonance with the ecology of the land or their urban context. As global climate change  intensifies, architects with landscape design expertise will actively be able to shape the role of buildings in the landscape to address resilience in more profound ways.

In spring 2014, Kim created a series of drawings for Building Energy, the magazine of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. The drawings suggest better ways to fit buildings to their sites. Some of them are shown here.

Find the full article online: Beyond the Envelope: Right Building, Wrong Site (beginning on page 24 of the publication)


FIGURE 1: Wrong Site

Global climate change will increase sea levels and the frequency and intensity of storms. As a result, flood and groundwater levels will rise and make siting buildings all the more important. (Figure 1)

  • Avoid sites that are near FEMA floodplains or that are predicted to face flooding. Avoid low-elevation coastal properties or barrier beaches.
  • Wells draw down aquifers, and development pollutes underground potable water resources.
  • Know where your site is in relation to its watershed to track the upstream impacts of impervious development, forest clearing, and polluted runoff.

FIGURE 2: Better Site

A better building site (Figure 2) can be identified by:

  • locating structures outside flood-prone areas
  • protecting the water quality of deep aquifers
  • planting stream edges to slow, clean, and infiltrate run-off and thereby protect surface-water quality
  • knowing where a site is in relationship to its watershed, allowing you to track the upstream effects of impervious development, forest clearing, and upstream runoff



Urban sites with large impervious development (Figure 3) increase flooding, and groundwater levels rise.

FIGURE 3: Wrong Site

  • Polluted water is dumped untreated from storm drains into local water bodies.

A better building site (Figure 4) can be identified by:

  • Increasing public transportation and creating walkable, bikeable urban areas decreases the need for cars and parking areas and allows for more room for green open spaces.
  • Porous parking lots can hold and infiltrate stormwater.
  • Green infrastructure—porous paving, green roofs, and planted areas—cools hot urban areas, increases biodiversity, cleans, stores, and infiltrates stormwater, and creates more livable cities.

    FIGURE 4: Better Site