[Landscape Northwest]
March 31, 1998

Blurring the edges of site

Landscape NW editor

Jones & Jones is everywhere. Look around large and small open spaces -- from the shoreline of Lake Washington to Snoqualmie Pass or in any number of master planning documents in the region -- and you are likely to find that Jones & Jones Architects and Landscape Architects has literally done the groundwork.

For nearly three decades, the multi-disciplinary firm has pushed the outer edges of landscape architecture, challenging assumptions about our relationships to land.

"When you start digging, it starts to make a place a part of something bigger," said Ilze Jones, who has made urban places a special focus of her practice.

In the 1970s, Jones & Jones played a leading role in restoring the oldest public squares and open spaces in Seattle. This effort included an award-winning plan for Pioneer Square that reconnected the neighborhood with its own heart and with the rest of the city. Also in that decade, the firm designed the pedestrian-friendly restoration of Tilikum Place off Fifth Avenue, the home of the famous statue of chief Seattle.

For Jones & Jones, working with human history does not stop with urban areas. Jones & Jones has re-read and interpreted lands that are written with tragic chapters -- such as the demilitarized zone in between North and South Korea and the Nez Pierce Trail of Tears.

The firm's international portfolio now includes a river system in Pennsylvania, a scenic highway in Kentucky, a botanic garden in Tepotzotlan, Mexico, and zoos in cities throughout the world.

Jones & Jones is founded on diversity. Ilze is a Latvian immigrant. She was married to co-founder Grant Jones, whom she met while studying architecture at the University of Washington, when they opened their Pioneer Square office in 1970. Third partner Johnpaul Jones is not related.

Grant is proud of his Welsh heritage. And Johnpaul counts his Choctaw, Cherokee and Welsh ancestry as influences on his philosophy and work.

Johnpaul, who joined the firm in 1974 and became a partner four years later, has a growing portfolio of design centered on Native American culture and values, including Makah elders center, the Longhouse at The Evergreen State College and architecture for the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

Darwin's finches

"Ideas migrate, places resonate," reads an introduction to the firm's philosophy. Co-founder Grant Jones, "a poet married to a design firm," is fond of natural metaphors. He has compared the life of the firm to one of Darwin's finches -- a bird that took on many new forms as it migrated into entirely new territory.

After nearly three decades of evolution, Jones & Jones has a list of over 800 completed projects, many of which were once in a category by themselves. Since its founding, the firm has also spawned at least three nationally prominent landscape architecture firms whose principals spent their formative professional years there.

Tilikum Square

Tilikum Square, Seattle.
Photo courtesey of Jones & Jones.

After hundreds of projects as the principal of a landscape design firm, Grant, who was trained as an architect at the University of Washington and as a landscape architect at Harvard, is somewhat hard pressed to describe what he does.

"It's not beautification," he said. "And it's not anything like engineering."

In a world where land use and landscape design decisions are dominated by politics, economics and prevailing esthetics, Grant and his associates have shown over and over again that it is possible and desirable to "give the land a voice."

He dislikes calling a piece of land a "site." According to his description, it's more like a partner in design.

"Give it a name," said Grant. "Make it a friend. All those things you're not trained to do. . ." and, incidentally, "get legal standing for it."

To Grant Jones, this approach to decision-making about land very useful in answering the question: "How can we get the most value out of it?"

Jones & Jones is a design firm in which poetry and computer simulation are not incompatible.

Staff members at Jones & Jones once had a recurring problem with projects involving roadways. The designers would find an optimum alignment for the roadway based on social, scenic and practical criteria, only to have the plan defeated by engineers wielding prescriptive formulas for roadbed curvature and dimensions.

The designers now have the final word. Landscape architect Paul Sorey wrote a software program that applies roadway dimension requirements from any jurisdiction to a wire model that allows landscape architects themselves to find the optimum alignment -- with confidence that it will meet requirements.

Jones & Jones recently completed an open space map for the Mountains to Sound Greenway, an environmental preservation project of vast proportions intended to save spectacular mountain views along Interstate 90 between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass from degradation through logging and development. The firm mapped the greenway itself, which extends for more than 100 miles.

But this was only the latest of many Jones & Jones projects that form a green lifeline from the mountains all the way to the sound. They include the Bellevue Parks and Recreation Master Plan, plans for Mercer Slough Nature Park, Kelsey Creek Park, Newcastle Beach Park, the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River River Valley Concept Plan, the Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area and the Coal Miners' Trail.

Roads and lifelines

"There are very few wild places left," said Grant. "The whole globe is a series of managed remnant populations."

He quotes Will Rogers: "They aren't making any more land." They are, however, making more constituencies all the time, he said.

While listening to the land, the firm has looked for new ways to bring more constituents into the planning process. "The root of sustainability is democracy," said Grant.

As they began work on the view corridor of Highway 101 along the California Coast, Jones & Jones coined the term: "viewer-employed photography." The precise meaning of the term is that the staff handed out disposable cameras and invited stakeholders to take pictures of "things they like and things they didn't like" so that values and dislikes could be seen in the images that resulted.

Members of the firm have become experts in "watershed politics," a useful specialty when tracing the ways natural river systems intersect with human settlement -- and trying to renew the balance between development and habitat.

Perhaps they are happiest with projects that combine ecology and education, whether it is a wetland stewardship program or a sanctuary for endangered species that is wired for distance learning.

In the Center for Urban Horticulture, Jones & Jones was able to rehabilitate an old shoreline landfill into a park-like amenity that also holds visible clues for the public about how a landfill changes over time. Uphill from the landfill site, an award-winning building designed by Johnpaul has become a popular gathering place and home to a new academic discipline: urban horticulture.

Jones & Jones has also designed botanical gardens, aquaria and interpretive centers in the U.S., Latin American and the Pacific Rim.

The most intensive -- although perhaps least natural -- laboratory for the study of animal species is the zoo. The name Jones & Jones is now almost ubiquitous in the field of zoo design.

Mercer Slough

Mercer Slough nature park in Bellevue is a critical element of the city's open space system and a major interpretive center for the region. A master plan developed by Jones & Jones in 1986 continues to serve as a blueprint for development.

Grant once defended bad-tempered gorillas at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, explaining that they had lived their entire lives in a "six-hundred-square-foot tiled bathroom."

With the completion of the master plan and the first of the new exhibits of the Woodland Park Zoo, Jones & Jones began to push zoo design into the age of "bioimmersion." To understand the influence that the firm has had on the Woodland Park Zoo and other zoological parks around the nation, one has only to visit the empty Ape House there. It now stands like an old jail among an interconnecting network of exotic habitats where visitors can wander discover animals in natural settings.

The animals, once on forced display in cramped quarters, now roam in large open spaces designed to mimic their natural environs where they can choose to hide or charm visitors. Ultimate success, according to Grant, results in a zoo that "when you went there you'd feel like you didn't belong." To date, Jones & Jones has been responsible for hundreds of zoo projects.

A fourth principal, Keith Larson, specializes in zoos as well as wilderness areas and interpretive centers. And a fifth, Mario Campos, has further expanded the multicultural talents of the 35-person firm with botanical garden and nature preserve projects in Latin America.

Yet perhaps as never before, the principals of Jones & Jones want to work in their own community.

"The three Jones' are reaching their stride now," said Johnpaul Jones.

Copyright © 1998 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.