Art has played an important role in the public realm for centuries. In ancient Rome, statues of gods, goddesses, and emperors were prolific. In eastern cultures, deities were worshipped with sculptures, and sacred spaces were marked with shrine gates called torii. In modern times, public art has expanded to include cultural ideas beyond religion or government. Arguably, the most novel form of 20th century public art, Land Art is exemplified by the monumental earthworks, such as Spiral Jetty created in Utah by Robert Smithson, and the encirclement of eleven Florida islands in pink fabric by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. However, most often, the aim is to enhance public engagement, improve property value, stimulate the local economy through increased traffic to local businesses, and provide social connection or shared community understanding.

One of the more recent trends in public art is to create pieces that are as functional as they are visually stimulating. In form, these works are appreciated for their beauty and ability to add intrigue to the outdoor environment. Bridging the gap between fine art and the everyday, functional public art refers to well-designed objects that make life easier, better, and more productive with an appealing aesthetic that cleverly suggests “I’m art!” Functional public art may take the form of an understated sculpture that is meant to be used as a bench, or it may be a gracefully stepped garden that also works as a public amphitheater.

The key to creating a functional public art experience is the infusion of stylistic differentiators into things that might not otherwise ever be viewed as art – thereby encouraging stay-value because of its overarching purpose and place holder within the overall design. Street lights become more than simple bulbs on the end of poles. Pedestrian pathways and crosswalks become colorful mosaics and charming streetscapes. And, playgrounds and parks take on meaning for residents and neighbors. In this way, the appearance and meaning of hardscape, landscape, water features and other design detailing are not separate from function, but central to it.

As designers, our challenge to create functional art is an exciting one. It allows for purposeful creativity and a real chance to shape the experiences of those who visit, use, or occupy a space. In doing so, the design and character of public areas is intrinsically made more enduring. A retaining wall with artistic value is less likely to be defaced with graffiti, just as ponds with fountains are less likely to be filled for no reason.

With the face of functional public art continuing to evolve, it will be interesting to see how people and artists utilize varying platforms and mediums including nature, man-made materials, technology, wayfinding, and even transportation as utilitarian pieces that also make a statement about a time, people, or destination.

A cornerstone of EDSA’s approach is the understanding that design is not a finite set of tasks but a dynamic process of discovery, where each step forms the basis for the next. So, while every project site and development program are unique, the principles and strategies of our approach remain constant.

Here’s an overview of our process that leads to viable program alternatives and development strategies for projects that are both creative and economically sound.


At the onset of an assignment, EDSA along with our client, team members and constituents collaborate to outline project objectives and assess project feasibility. This step leads to a greater understanding of the physical site and market opportunities. It helps identify zones for preservation, program elements and land-use strategies based on context that aligns with an overall project vision.


Nurturing social, economic and environmental success, the master plan makes sensitive use of topography, landform, natural resources, vegetation, infrastructure and buildings for implementation of a successful and sustainable projects. Detailing of development areas, preferred land uses, circulation, open space networks, focal points, infrastructure, roadways and transit initiatives are refined to enhance the site’s attributes, attract investment and strengthen connections between existing uses, people and place.


The overall theme, intent and character of a place is crafted by the physical design and specific layout of amenities, features and infrastructure. Sketches, sections and elevations are combined with engineering and economic models to illustrate critical relationships and provide a cohesive design package. As efforts progress from conceptual to detailed design, the color, textures, finishes and massing of hardscape and landscape forms are brought to life.


The process culminates with a coordinated package that illustrates all the design components, construction details and specifications. Construction documents and observation services are oriented toward reviewing the progress and ensuring the design and aesthetics of site work are consistent with the originally set project vision, intent, goals and objectives.



The Structure of a Healthy and Connected Community

With connectivity as a neighborhood priority, planners and landscape architects are promoting healthy living by implementing alternatives that foster a stronger social fabric and interface with the outdoors. Access and circulation to activity centers, open spaces, civic nodes, trails and other amenities should be sited within a 3-5-minute walk from every home.

Designer Desks

Modern day business environments are typically characterized by sleek desks, laptop computers and the occasional notepad. At EDSA our workspace looks slightly different.

How to Make Hotels More Storm Resilient

EDSA President Doug Smith was recently published by Hotel Business for his insights on climate-induced issues impacting the hospitality industry, what hoteliers must do to remain resilient and EDSA’s plan of action to ensure the firm’s projects are sustainable.