Two ISU landscape architecture seniors win international competition for park design

AMES, Iowa -- Andrew Kraemer was napping when Adam Olson phoned to say they had won an international student design competition. Kraemer replied groggily, "What competition?" and hung up.

"About ten minutes later, Andrew called me back and said, 'You're not lying to me, are you?' So I read him the email," Olson said.

In the email, the organization Park Pride Atlanta congratulated the two Iowa State University landscape architecture seniors for winning the Park Pride International Student Design Competition. And, it mentioned they would receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Olson, of Hudson, and Kraemer, of St. Louis, created their design, "Knoll Park," last fall in Associate Professor William Grundmann's community design studio. Classmate Stacie Ellickson, Boone, won an honorable mention for her design, "Loblolly Ridge Park."

The awards were announced at the Park Pride 9th Annual Parks and Greenspace Conference held March 22 in Atlanta. Thirty-three entries were submitted to the competition. The jury making the selection included area landscape architecture faculty and practitioners, and residents of the suburban Atlanta neighborhood where the park site is located.

Olson and Kraemer's design for the 13.3-acre park features a boardwalk across an existing lake, trails, sculptures, several family-sized gathering spots, a labyrinth, a pavilion, a rain garden and open recreational space. Several images of their design are online at

Community design studio

Grundmann assigned his studio class the semester-long project to produce a park design for the competition. Olson and Kraemer had registered for the studio specifically because they wanted to work together on a competitive project.

"We wanted to enter a competition together because a lot of our strengths play off each other," Kraemer said.

"And it was fun to design for the studio and then take it to compete internationally," he added. "We're very competitive."

Design requirements called for analyzing the demographics of the park's service area and proposing a design that serves all sectors of the actual population, addresses cultural preferences, requires no resident staff and restrains operations and construction costs. Students were not allowed to visit the site. They were able to use the county's demographic data and master plan report.

"We found the population of the area is very diverse in age, race and ethnicity," Olson said. "And they enjoy doing a lot of activities like running and yoga."

Process of refinement

After their analysis, they presented preliminary concepts in a review with an area practitioner. They developed one concept and presented it to local landscape architects. Based on feedback, they fine-tuned their design.

"There was a lot of refinement from the beginning to the end of the project," Kraemer said. "We were very fortunate to have professors and professionals come to our reviews and give us feedback on how to push it further."

During their final class review, students were required to submit boards and text that explained their design and approach from the perspective of a park user. Olson and Kraemer wrote theirs in the form of an email from one young mother to another.

Elements of the park

Their boards illustrate and describe their design elements. In the labyrinth, uncut grasses define space for people to "wander unwind and relax." The rain garden allows water from the parking lot to slowly "percolate into the soil" with the vegetation removing pollutants from the runoff. The dramatic boardwalk offers "a panoramic experience for walkers and runners" while its deck space provides a space to sit and relax on the water. Screening with trees and berms helps minimize traffic noise. And a series of trails connect the park with its surrounding neighborhood.

"The hardest part was to get all the pieces that we wanted in the design to flow together into one park," Olson said.

"We utilized the vegetation and earthwork mounds to create space, removing the necessity for architectural structures and solving that issue," Olson said.

Sweet experience

Both students said working on the project was a "blast."

"One of the coolest things was to get feedback from outside," Kraemer said. "It's nice to have a different point of view when it comes to your projects. When a practitioner complements your work, it's a real confidence booster!"

Olson agreed. "This entire process has been really gratifying. Just putting your work out there is a lot of fun. We're leaving ISU with a bang!"

Both students will graduate with Bachelor of Landscape Architecture degrees in May.