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Desert Landscape Architect Resists Xeriscaping

Officials with the Palm Springs International Airport want to redo its landscaping to create a more lush, oasis feel. City commissioners would like the airport to use more native plants to save water and money. Airport landscape architect Michael Buccino says people want to see flowers and lie on the grass.
Photo Credits: The Desert Sun


"You may have to fire me" if you want xeriscaping rather than flowers and turfgrass, landscape architect Michael Buccino told Palm Springs, Calif. planners recently. But city officials are under pressure to put in water-saving plants as they update the look of Palm Springs International Airport.

At a time when homeowners, businesses and cities across the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, Calif. are looking to conserve water by converting green space to desert landscapes, the landscape architect working on a redesign for the city's airport is digging in his heels.

Familiar Debate

The use of grass and flowers versus desert plants – a mid-century modern aesthetic versus a tropical vibe – is at the heart of an emotional debate over a plan to renovate the landscaping inside the airport.

At a recent hearing on the matter, the airport’s landscape architect choked up when he presented his vision for the airport’s outdoor lobby.

“People like color, fragrance and grass,” said Michael Buccino, pausing for a moment to catch his breath.

Despite three meetings of the Architectural Advisory Committee and two Planning Commission meetings, where he was advised to add more native plants, Buccino said people want to see flowers and lie on the grass.

“In good conscience, I won’t do it,” said Buccino. “You may have to fire me.”

Drive to Save Water

Planning Commissioner Tracy Conrad said she knows Buccino has it in him to design something that is more environmentally friendly. She’s even OK with keeping some of the grass.

“This is the one place where we can waste some water,” Conrad said, adding that having grass on site is reminiscent of a golf course.

Conrad wants the landscape to reflect the mid-century modern style of the iconic 1965 Donald Wexler-designed airport.

”(It should look) like what Doris Day would walk by with a martini,” said Conrad.

Architectural Advisory Committee member Paul Ortega countered Thursday that desert landscaping can feel lush and tropical. Desert landscaping could also save the airport money on water and maintenance, he said.

Flower Power

The airport is proposing, for example, 2,200 annuals that would need to be changed out three times a year, said Ortega, chairman and founder of the Desert Horticultural Society of the Coachella Valley.

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Larry Hochanadel, however, said he thinks Palm Springs landscaping is flowers, grass and citrus trees, just as the airport has proposed.

“I feel better when I see color,” said Hochanadel.

Commissioner Leo Cohen agreed with Conrad, and suggested airport officials screen a bunch of films from the 1960s to get the “gist of what they were doing at that time.”

Source: The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun

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June 27, 2019, 1:58 am PDT

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