Academy of Art University’s School of Landscape Architecture Sweeps San Francisco Garden Design Competition

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“Sublimation,” a garden designed and created by students of Academy of Art University’s School of Landscape Architecture, garnered an unprecedented eight awards

“Sublimation,” a garden designed and created by students of Academy of Art University’s School of Landscape Architecture, garnered an unprecedented eight awards, including the Golden Gate Cup for Best in Show, at the annual San Francisco Flower & Garden Show.

Sublimation was conceived by MFA student Nahal Sohbati and BFA student Eric Arneson and featured a collaborative effort of more than a dozen Landscape Architecture students. Its execution impressed a number of industry professionals, and earned the students an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

At a ceremony on March 17, the garden was repeatedly acknowledged for its unique design, in keeping with this year’s “Going Wild” theme. This year marks the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show’s 30th anniversary and visitors will be able to explore the garden – as well as numerous other exhibitions – through March 22 at the San Mateo Event Center.

The Academy students’ 675-square-foot garden melds innovative, contemporary design with sustainability, incorporating gabions, stones and drought-tolerant plants – primarily succulents and agaves - as well other grasses and vegetation. All plants are labeled with their common and Latin names.

In their artists’ statement Sohbati and Arneson write, “Sublimation is defined as the transition of a substance directly from solid to gas without passing through the intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is redefined in the gardenscape by emphasizing the transition from solid to void and from hard to soft.”

Healdsburg native Arneson and Iranian-born Sohbati are both members of the student chapter of ASLA. Several months ago, the pair created a number of garden designs and then invited input from other students to select the final plan.

Heather Clendenin, Director of the School of Landscape Architecture, and faculty member Yasmine Farazian, oversaw the project, which was refined over several months.

“Nahal brings with her a good sense of space and attention to detail and Eric has a deep-seated love and knowledge of plants and how to use them to their utmost effectiveness, both visually and spatially. Both are passionate about resource issues and wanted to make sure that the materials used in the project would result in as little waste as possible,” said Clendenin.

Throughout the process, the students were mindful of California’s water woes. “Since there’s a drought right now, it’s important to emphasize that there are opportunities to exchange high water plants with low water plants - and they’re just as beautiful,” said Arneson.

According to Clendenin, the real world challenges of how best to work with limited materials, time and resources, resulted in a project better than originally anticipated. Additionally, when it became obvious that the garden would beckon visitors to sit and contemplate the lush surroundings, Sohbati and Arneson went to work designing and building a unique curved bench in the woodshop of the Academy’s School of Architecture.

“Projects like this are essential for the development of our students as professional designers. This hands-on experience encourages students to make the connection between the design vision and what can actually be produced,” Clendenin said.

Sohbati said the greatest reward for the project was seeing visitors’ reaction to the garden. She was approached throughout the first hours of the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show by visitors asking for tips on how to grow similar plants at home. Sohbati believes that landscape architecture is a marriage of many different disciplines – from design to psychology.

“I really enjoy solving problems, figuring out what’s wrong with a space and adding a touch of art, a touch of science,” she said.

Academy of Art University’s Landscape Architecture program was founded in 2010. Since then, Clendenin’s students have entered the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show annually, earning gold and silver medals. Not only is 2015 a year of an unprecedented number of awards, it coincides with the School of Landscape Architecture’s first graduation ceremony of MFA students.

“The awards are are a testament to the growth and success of the School of Landscape Architecture. In only in four years, it has gone from just a brand-new school to being a medal-winning program,” said Arneson.

About Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University, the largest private university of art and design in the United States, is educating students for the art and design jobs of the 21st century. Established in 1929, the Academy is an output-based higher education model that provides an inclusive admissions policy to all students, but imposes a rigorous curriculum that requires the students to produce a portfolio of work that demonstrates a mastery of their field in order to graduate. Students are taught by a faculty of professionals from the existing marketplace, both online and on campus in San Francisco. The Academy’s hands-on curriculum produces graduates who possess outstanding artistic and design skills—and equally as important, the ability to put those talents to work immediately after graduation. As a result, Academy graduates are ready to compete for and win the jobs of the 21st century in the fields of Acting, Advertising, Animation & Visual Effects, Architecture, Art Education, Art History, Costume Design, Fashion, Fashion Journalism, Fashion Styling, Fine Art, Game Design, Game Programming, Graphic Design, Illustration, Industrial Design, Interior Architecture & Design, Jewelry & Metal Arts, Landscape Architecture, Motion Pictures & Television, Multimedia Communications, Music Production & Sound Design for Visual Media, Photography, Studio Production for Advertising & Design, Visual Development, Web Design & New Media and Art Teaching Credential, and Writing for Film, Television & Digital Media. Academy of Art University is accredited by WASC, NASAD, Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) (BFA/MFA-IAD), NAAB (B-ARCH*, M-ARCH), and California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). *B-ARCH program in candidacy status. Visit for more information.

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Jennifer Blot