Forterra awarded Olmsted Medal

American Society of Landscape Architects awards coveted national honor for visionary leadership on regional sustainability who reflects landscape architects' highest values

“Forterra is all about land, and about so much more than land. As an organization that works creatively, over time, with many partners, and with a focus on community and people, it is well deserving of the Olmsted Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects, the profession that is fundamentally about the relationship of the built and natural environments, people and land.” — From the Forterra nomination


Forterra was recently awarded the prestigious Olmsted Medal of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). Conferred annually at ASLA’s national conference, the Olmsted Medal is one of the Society’s premier honors.

Forterra is one of very few local or regional organizations to receive this distinction. Winners typically include organizations and individuals of national or international stature, and who have contributed importantly to environmental leadership, vision and stewardship. Previous awardees include the national offices of the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy; the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center; Earth Day founder Senator Gaylord Nelson; environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy; and Nobel Peace Prize-winners Wangari Maathai, President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, and Vice President Al Gore.

“Forterra is truly a shining example of bringing people together for nature,” says Curtis LaPierre of landscape architecture firm Otak, who is among those who put Forterra forward. “Forterra has made western Washington an even better place to live by understanding that this place is who we are.”

Adds Laura Thompson of SPVV Landscape Architects, President of the Washington Chapter of ASLA, “Forterra has been a model for stewardship of land, and has provided imaginative, collaborative and exemplary environmental leadership.”

“We are stunned and deeply honored to be in the company of all the extraordinary people and organizations who have won the Olmsted Medal,” remarks Michelle Connor, Forterra’s President and CEO. “This is a wonderful validation of our work and approach from people who devote their lives to making spaces where people and nature can thrive together. The award emboldens us to reach even higher.”

An Innovative Leader on Regional Sustainability and Livability

“Forterra has made an invaluable contribution to the Puget Sound region through its role as a traditional land conservancy and as an innovative leader on regional sustainability and livability,” says Brennon Staley, Strategic Advisor at the Seattle Office of Planning & Community Development, and one of the nominators. “While there are many organizations doing great work acquiring areas of high ecological value, that makes Forterra really stand out is how they have gone beyond this work to bring urban and rural people together to implement a vision for our region where we protect ecological value, but also support rural jobs, make great urban places, and ensure that growth fosters livability.”

“What makes Forterra so distinctive,” adds Marilyn Strickland, former mayor of the City of Tacoma and now the president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, “is that its breadth of vision is matched by its depth of accomplishment. It has succeeded in improving the quality of life throughout the state, from iconic rural places to urban centers by being gutsy, creative, and putting the relationship that people have with their environment at the center of their work.”

A Long View Inspired by the Olmsted Legacy 

“We’re particularly honored to receive an award associated with the Olmsted family,” comments Forterra board chair and longtime Boeing executive Terry Mutter. “The Olmsteds have been a leading inspiration of our work because of the audacity of their aims and how they looked a century into the future. So much of what defines Seattle today is the legacy of parks, promenades and graceful wooded boulevards that the Olmsteds conceived and, with the city’s people, brought progressively into being.”

Forterra began just under thirty years ago as a traditional land trust focused chiefly on buying and protecting big, iconic wildlands. As growth in the region gained momentum, the organization also took an interest in farmland and working forests, which were increasingly threatened by sprawl.

Then, around 2005, came an epiphany. What was happening in the cities also needed the organization’s attention. Ill-considered use of urban land could undercut the region’s prized livability, cause displacement and social inequity, and ultimately unravel the whole regional fabric.

After an extensive process of community engagement involving hundreds of meetings and input from more than 17,000 people, Forterra advanced The Cascade Agenda, a bold 100-year vision with an action plan to conserve 1.3 million acres of forest and farmland in Washington while simultaneously fostering healthy and equitable growth in cities and towns. In 2008, The Cascade Agenda was one of nine global winners of the Sustainable Cities Award, co-sponsored by The Financial Times of London and the Urban Land Institute.

About the Award

The Olmsted Medal honors Frederick Law Olmsted, considered the founder of the American landscape architecture profession and steward of the environment. Olmsted Medal recipients are selected on the basis of their commitment to safeguarding our natural heritage either nationally or regionally. The nominee’s work may take the form of policy or action, embodying ASLA’s commitment to stewardship of the land and quality of life.

Founded in 1899, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is the professional association for landscape architects in the United States, representing more than 15,000 members. The Society’s mission is to advance landscape architecture through advocacy, communication, education and fellowship. Sustainability has been part of ASLA’s mission since its founding and is an overarching value that informs all of the Society’s programs and operations. ASLA has been a leader in demonstrating the benefits of green infrastructure and resilient development practices through the creation of its own green roof, co-development of the SITES® Rating System, and the creation of publicly accessible sustainable design resources.