Instilling Connection & Sustainability

Material Reuse and Recycling in Landscape Architecture

Landscape architects articulate and curate the “poetics of city and nature” through their designs. Whether it is sourcing reclaimed materials from a local supplier to utilizing material found on-site and repurposing it into a site element; material reuse and recycling can be a history lesson, a representation of environmentalism, and a creative challenge.  

As stewards of landscape design rooted in awareness and responsiveness to the communities they serve, as well as ecological systems, AHBL’s landscape architects and designers are passionate about utilizing material reuse and recycling wherever possible. Recently, two AHBL staff members, Senior Project Manager, Sarah Singleton-Schroedel, PLA and Stuart Johnson, Landscape Designer, were asked to articulate their passion, inspirations, and examples of material reuse and recycling among their projects. 

Headshot Banner - Material Reuse Feature

Q: What do you enjoy most about material reuse and recycling? 

  • Answer: Stuart Johnson, Landscape Designer - “I love that material reuse and recycling can display industrial artifacts in creative ways. I am a long-time resident of Tacoma, and a student of its rich industrial history, from sawmills to shipbuilding. I am fascinated by observing design that is responsive and pays tribute to the past while also moving forward.  
    Additionally, the design qualities of aged materials are unending! Aged wood or metal can add instant textures whether it is rust, weathering, or reclaimed beams; these all add character to a project.

  • Answer: Sarah Singleton-Schroedel, Senior Landscape Project Manager - “I appreciate the level of creativity and inspiration necessary when integrating material reuse effectively into a project. Landscape architects can mold reused materials into art that is deeply connected to the community and environment.”  

Q: Instances where you have reused materials and recycled to create an inspiring outdoor environment or space? 

Answer: Sarah -
Material Reuse Graphic - Brewery BlocksBrewery Blocks Redevelopment in Downtown Tacoma 
Downtown Tacoma features many beautiful buildings with rich history that have been repurposed. From the University of Washington – Tacoma to businesses creating inspired offices and storefronts, there is a tribute and retention of Tacoma’s grit among the cityscape.  

AHBL recently provided landscape architecture services for the Brewery Blocks redevelopment which included streetscape design. Our landscape architects reused 20-foot Douglas fir beams from the existing building’s interior to create outdoor benches. We embraced the opportunity to utilize existing material, forged on-site to create a marker of the building’s history. Additionally, tracks from the historic Prairie Line railroad corridor are embedded amongst the sidewalks on the site. It gives you a sense of how people used to move throughout Tacoma and the region.” 

Arlington Elementary School, Tacoma Public Schools 
I love being inspired by surrounding natural elements and features. In the case of Arlington Elementary School in South Tacoma, there was a giant tree that was in the middle of South 74th Street, a street along the perimeter of the school. The tree had been through a lot; from vehicular accidents to a lightning strike!  

The tree was taken down and repurposed by an artist who tributed the tree’s stature through art. The art made from the neighborhood tree is featured among the school’s rain garden and entrance.

Material Reuse Graphic - AWS Nature Play AreaNature Play Area, Annie Wright Schools 
A repurposed dingy at Annie Wright Schools has a special place in my heart. This small but mighty vessel was donated and repurposed as part of the school’s nature play area.  

The boat has become a beloved feature among the playground, fostering imagination and providing a visual connection to the adjacent playground’s pirate ship and Commencement Bay. The repurposed dingy demonstrates that with creativity, reused materials can have an incredible and lasting impact.

Q: Creative instances of material reuse and recycling (what projects/designers have inspired you)? 

  • Answer: Stuart - “I encourage people to be curious when they experience parks. There is so much intention and meaning that goes into park design, local parks can provide powerful examples of material reuse and recycling. Metro Park Tacoma’s Dune Peninsula is a park that pays tribute to the land’s industrial past through subtle design nods to artifacts on display throughout the park.” 

  • Answer: Sarah - “I am a huge follower of Julie Bargmann, a professor at the University of Virginia and founder of a studio called D.I.R.T.. Julie’s work is part activism, part architecture; her work finds ways to reuse salvaged materials in redeveloping sites in visionary ways. 
    More locally, I am inspired by the Prairie Line Trail that weaves from Tacoma’s waterfront to the Brewery District. The trail is a mile-long park along the tracks of the retired Prairie Line and features art and history. It represents the reclamation of green space among urban areas and remembering where we came from.

Q: The impact of material reuse and recycling (project savings, sustainable practices, inspiring DIY and reuse projects among users)?  

  • Answer: Stuart - “Material reuse and recycling is a design approach to diverting waste from landfills. This is critical to creating more environmentally and ecologically conscious landscapes.” 

  • Answer: Sarah - “Material reuse and recycling can occasionally be a source of cost savings. While managing project budgets is critical, I also think that material reuse and recycling challenges designers to approach an outdoor space with a different lens.  

    How can we make an existing material a piece of art, a talking point, or a functional element among a space? I find it to be an incredibly engaging material and design approach.” 


Julie Bargmann, Founder & Principal of D.I.R.T. studio 

Anne Whiston Spirn, FASLA, Renowned Landscape Architect and Educator 

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