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University of Illinois Landscape Architecture

[Civic Design]


[Residential Design]







“My life goal pertaining to landscape architecture, is to design landscapes through my perception of the meaning of life during my life at that time, while designing in ways that have never been done before in order to represent surreal concepts, like dreams, that in no way replicate natural landscapes unless they are abstractly playing off them.”

Interpretation of Vernacular Acrylic on Bond.Photoshop 20”x30” 2008

A Break from the Past

“Landscape architecture is similar to building a sand castle in the sense that it has evolved from nature on the beach built by individual sand grains, which will one day be conquered by nature and recede back into the water. In the future, each designed site will return back to nature as it once was, prior to being designed in the same way that people and civilizations are lost and nature reclaims what was once its own. Because nature will inevitably redeem its original form, why not take this opportunity to design outside the box, outside of nature? It should be the responsibility of landscape architects to design in ways that provide for people what nature cannot by inspiring imagination and mystery through experiential encounters.” “I believe that providing the imagination and mystery that nature cannot is more mentally stimulating to an individual. Nature can be captured in an image, and can appear similar in many different places. The age of picturesque landscapes should be an era of the past and designers should be evolving their style with the ever changing world. I see no reason to use landscape architecture as a means of re-creating nature because it is well known that no designer can re-create nature better than its natural existing form, that’s the beauty of nature.” “The designing of creative surreal like landscapes that push the imagination to distant dimensions is the type of landscape architecture that I am going to push for because it provides what nature cannot. It amplifies the creative stimulus of the experienced viewer by generating newfound emotions. In a fast paced changing atmosphere like today, it is more beneficial to challenge and mystify one’s mind in a landscape that disengages from nature and explores the creative intelligence of its users.” ~2009 Darren Leonardi


Multicultural Urbanism This is a redesign for the Van Hise Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin on the University of Wisconsin campus, which serves as the foreign language building. What started as a concrete barren terrace transforms into a dynamic multicultural atmosphere where students spend time between classes. It also serves as an outdoor dining area for a deli located in the adjacent building. The blocky puzzle pattern serves to provide visual interest on multiple levels. Madison, WI Van Hise Terrace 2008

Section Views of the Van Hise Terrace


Time Machine This design is for the interior playground of a toy store in which the store completely surrounds the plaza. Time machine provides a place for children to explore their wildest dreams from prehistoric to medieval times, and into the future. Children can take their new toys into this space to play and it will keep the children in the store longer. Toystore 2009

Model of Time Machine



Hydrology Study

This is a ten acre community park dedicated to a nineteen year old who died tragically in a boating accident. This design concept serves as a memorial as it symbolizes the circle of life through the tiers of overflowing pools that resemble eddies found in creek beds. The park echoes the concept with long circuitous walking trails to allow parents to exercise while their children play in the series of outdoor rooms. There is a pavilion located on the highest point of elevation in the park which would serve as the main venue for the yearly memorial celebration that takes place adjacent to the largest span of open green space, large enough for football and soccer games. There is also a skatepark and playground on site to benefit a variety of age groups. Mahomet, IL 2009

Canopy Study

Paving Study

Brent Johnson Memorial Park Master Plan


Multicultural Quilt This is a suburban park redesign for King Park in Urbana, Illinois. It is adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School which is a linguistically diverse school and it is also a well known community park for Urbana. The concept is that a multicultural community is like a quilt, where the people become the fabric. The strength and togetherness of the community become the thread that provide the stitching. The overhead structure is the solar paneled lighting system that symbolizes the stitching of the community. There is also a Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Plaza which is framed by low walls that serve as artist murals and an abstract memorial sculpture fountain. Urbana, IL 2009

King Park Master Plan


Mahomet to Danville: Rail to Trail The Mahomet to Danville: Rail to Trail project re-uses an existing railway to create a bike and pedestrian trail linking the cities between Mahomet

to Danville. Each trailhead along the way showcases a different type of recyclable item by re-using it within the trailhead landscape. The Mahomet Trailhead showcases the recycling of both wood (paper) products and rubber (tires). An assortment of products can be created by recycling wood and rubber from rubber bollards to seating to sculptures. Recycled rubber is used to create the planters depicted in the perspective views, while recycled glass which is also permeable is used as both the pavement on the trail and at the trailheads. Recycled concrete permeable pavers are used in the parking lot to reduce runoff and keep all stormwater on site. There are also rain gardens within and adjacent to the parking lot to capture runoff from the road and from the parking lot. Recycled lumber could be used to build the bathroom and shelter at the trailhead. Although the focus of the Mahomet Trailhead is wood and rubber, there are depositories for all recyclable materials located here. By focusing on only one or two materials at each trailhead location we are able to create a sense of place at every trailhead because every one will have different features and materials characteristic of that site. 2010

Northeast Facing Perspective

North Facing Section

Northwest Facing Perspective

Mahomet Trailhead Planting Plan

Mahomet Trailhead Site Design~Rubber & Wood

East Facing Section

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Homer Lake Natural Playscape As a planning intern for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, I designed the Homer Lake Natural Playscape. This natural playscape offers today’s children the opportunity to experience what standardized pre-fabricated playsgrounds cannot, nature play! It offers children the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world by climbing, jumping, digging holes, playing with water and sand, building stick forts, and exploring the outdoors the ways kids used to play. The benefits of nature play include: • A foundation for environmental stewardship • More creative play • Improved motor coordination • Enhanced emotional coping and reduced stress • Increased concentration and impulse control • Reduced symptoms of ADD and ADHD Homer Lake Forest Preserve, IL 2010

Conceptual Masterplan







Proposed Site

Proposed Site Grading Plan

Site Selection

The site was chosen because of its relation to the water and the small cove that is nestled into the lake edge. This part of the lake is very shallow and has a sandy bottom. There is also a great portion of sunlight that reaches the ground here because there are just a few trees located in the proposed site for the playscape. The shallow valley and the wooded hill top provide a great setting for parents to view their children at play while giving them the space to interact on their own with nature. The hilltop also provides a natural setting for a small stream to emerge and wind its way down to the bay.

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Site Perspectives

Big boulders resembling glacial erratics mark the entry to the playscape welcoming visitors from the north side of the parking lot. The ADA accessible pathway switches back and forth providing a sense of mystery as to what lies beyond. Upon reaching the top of the hill, visitors will discover the interactive compass sculpture I designed which serves as a directional sculpture, a musical instrument, and an interactive art piece that would be donated to the park. Ideally, the children that participated in the feedback groups would have the opportunity to paint the sculpture prior to installation so that they could acquire a sense of ownership with the playscape. There would also be intricate cuts along the compass that would allow children to generate vibrations similar to a whale drum.

Interactive Compass Sculpture

Stream of Discovery

Near the top of the hill, between a large outcropping of rocks, a small stream emerges, splashing over boulders and weaving its way down through the sand and gravel all the way to the lake. At the top of the stream, children can use hand pumps to fill a rock basin full of water that they can release into the stream bed where they can move the sand, gravel, and rocks around to dam the stream or change the direction of it.


Stream of Discovery

Halfway down the hill, the stream sweeps beneath a large rock slab and makes its way to the lake where it meanders through the sand and into the bay. At the rock slab there are transfer points for children in wheelchairs to shuffle from their chairs down into the stream or into the sand beach area where they can feel the sand between their toes and share the same experiences as all the other kids. In the stream, children have the freedom to do as they choose with the natural materials on site and are encouraged to get dirty and explore the creative bounds of their imaginations. Near the lake, the shoreline has been extended into the land in order to create a shallow shelf in which boulders placed sporadically can be used to jump from rock to rock across the water from one side of the shore to the other.

Birdhouse Bungalow

The images below depict the boulder and tree stump climbing area where kids can jump from tree stump to tree stump or climb the big glacial erratics. Tall grasses are used here to create semi-enclosed spaces in order to preserve a sense of mystery as the children explore the playscape visiting each area. Across the pathway children can climb inside a kid-sized bluebird house where they can pretend to be baby birds and percieve the world from a birds perspective. Just down the path lies an enormous fallen tree with massive branches that children can climb and explore.

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Spider Web & Tallgrass Maze

The Spider Web climber is set back in a shady place between two trees and immersed in tall grasses to provide an opportunity for creative interaction between children and animals. There they can pretend to be spiders crawling around a web. Farther down the path, you have the opportunity to enter a willow tunnel where you will pass follow until you emerge into a tall grass maze full of curvy switchback pathways, each one leading to a different adventure. There are also animal footprints along the ground leading you to different parts of the maze yet to be discovered. At the end of the switchbacks children can discover the animals that made the footprints or musical instruments that they can play. The tallgrass maze serves as a type of scavenger hunt activity.

Fallen Tree Climbing Area Section


The hillside adjacent to the Stream of Discovery will be used to create an in-ground slide that curves along the hill and ends in a sand pit at the bottom. To prevent hillside erosion, heavy limestone slab terracing will be used to create a staircase the children can climb back up. Also there are telephone pole steps sunk into the hillside to create an uneven climbable surface that children can also use to climb back up.


Grounded in the Sky This design is for a suburban community set in 2050 that redefines what the suburban community is. In this project our 4 member team was responsible for the master plan for the entire community, but the enlarged detailed was an individual site design. This community redefines typical suburban property lines by having a low concentration of buildings while being able to support a high density of people and maintaining a enormous amount of public green space. Houses are set back from sidewalks and streets in order to provide enclosure and privacy so the homes appear to be set within nature and are entirely surrounded by forest, wildflowers, and prairies maximizing green space. Property lines do not touch allowing there to be public green space between the houses and between the houses and the street which creates a strong seamless landscape. Walking and biking are the primary modes of inter-community transportation, while the monorail serves the greater community. There are 4 large multifamily towers that provide living spaces for a variety of people and incomes. This community serves as an intermediary step to people living primarily only in skyrises in order to keep and maintain maximum green space. Urbana, IL 2009

Wetland Walkways

Community Master Plan-Team Collaboration

Section from House to Sidewalk

Section from House to House

Individual Site Design


Robert Taylor Homes Re-Design This is a re-design of the Robert Taylor Homes community in Chicago. The design emphasizes the importance of creating a healthy landscape by employing several key aspects: walking paths, safer streets, local food production, shared outdoor spaces, nearby neighborhood proximity to school, and a sculpture fountain. Walking paths are important in promoting physical exercise and alternative methods of transportation. Safer streets are created by narrowing the lanes, incorporating one-way streets with crosswalks and speed bumps. Local food production is beneficial to promoting healthy food choices and community building. This design focuses on creating shared social spaces within the community to strengthen community ties and to create a safe neighborhood. Providing a school nearby allows children to walk to school promoting physical exercise, while reducing their chances of heart disease, and helps to fight obesity. The sculpture fountain provides a soft fascination while the splashing water helps to drown the noise from the street. Each of these aspects helps to promote positive psychological health for the families that live here. Walking Paths

Safer Streets

Section from House to House

Central Shared Outdoor Spaces

Robert Taylor Homes Conceptual Masterplan


Restoration This is a residential design for a family moving into a new house in Urbana, Illinois. This design has been specifically prepared to be a psychologically restorative environment that gives the residents the opportunity to free their minds from their busy stressful lifestyles as academic professionals. The site is almost entirely wheelchair friendly to accomodate the disabled grandmother. There is a minimum amount of turfgrass and a maximum amount of trees and privacy to provide enclosure in order to create a haven of tranquility. All plantings are native species and low maintenance including wildflowers and groundcovers. There is a koi pond with a waterfall that provides soft fascination as well as serving to drown out noise from the nearby highway. There are places where the residents may entertain ten or twenty people but there are also smaller more intimate settings for just the adults or immediate family. There is an enlarged front patio space to provide opportunities for the residents to engage with their neighbors as well. Located next to the terraced ramp structure there is also a vegetable garden and compost area. Section of Terraced Ramp

North~South Section View

Urbana, IL 2010

Barnes and Long Residence Master Plan


Lakewood Avenue

Conceptual Masterplan

This residential design is intended to provide the family with a warm, welcoming outdoor landscape that creates a series of outdoor rooms for everyone to enjoy. Sustainable practices are implemented in the drivecourt/main entry area, where there are large, lush rain gardens flanking and in front of the main entry to the house collecting rainwater runoff from the roof and any from the permeable paved driveway. Evergreens were used in various places to provide beautiful backdrops to the carefully sited flowering trees. Native plants were primarily used while some exotic species were selected for their unique qualities or intriguiging inflorescences. In order to best frame the views of Lake Michigan and the ravine behind the house, certain trees were selected, repetition was used, and complementary colors were chosen to have the desired effect. The perennials were specifically sited to complement either the lake or the ravine as their backdrops.I have tried to achieve full seasonal interest throughout the site utilizing flower colors, fall colors, and unique characterstics.

Glencoe, IL 2010

Section of Pool & Patio

Planting Plan

Planting Schedule Trees Symbol Botanical Name AG Acer griseum AC Acer platanoides 'Crimson King' AR Acer ruburm AA Amelanchier arborea CC Cercis canadensis IO Ilex opaca FS Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Tricolor' NS Nyssa sylvantica Shrubs Symbol Botanical Name AE Aralia elata 'Aureovariegata' CD Callicarpa dichotoma Perennials Symbol Botanical Name AS Acanthus spinosus AAP Allium aflatunense 'Purple Sensation' AC Aquilegia canadansis BA Baptisia australis BM Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' DS Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' MV Mertensia virginica SM Spigelia marilandica PO Papaver orientale  Groundcovers Symbol Botanical Name PP Poa pratensis VM Vinca minor Symbol Botanical Name RGM Rain Garden Mix Bouteloua curtipendula Carex stricta Coreopsis rosea Festuca glauca 'Siskiyou Blue' Gaillardia aristata 'Burgundy' Gaura 'Whirling Butterflies' Iris versicolor Juncus effusus Koeleria macrantha Lobelia cardinalis Monarda didyma Onoclea sensibilis Osmunda cinnamomea Osmunda regalis Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' Phlox paniculata Phlox subulata Sorghastrum nutans

Common Name Paperbark Maple Crimson King Norway Maple Red Maple Downy Serviceberry Eastern Redbud American Holly Tricolor Beech Black Tupelo

Spacing 20' 40' 40' 10‐12' 8‐10' 30‐40' 20' 30‐40'


Common Name Gold‐variegated aralia Purple Beautyberry

Spacing 8' 3'


Common Name Spiny Bear's Breeches Flowering Onion Wild Columbine Blue False Indigo Siberian Bugloss Bleeding Heart Virginia Bluebells Indian Pink Oriental Poppy

Spacing 2' 2' 1.5' 4' 1.5' 2' 1.5' 1.5' 2'

Quantity 127 16 53 69 181 57 47 46 73

Common Name Kentucky Bluegrass Common Periwinkle Common Name


Quantity 2390 FT SQ. 5866 FT SQ. 

4 1 1 4 6 3 3 1

5 70

1.5' Quantity 1516.96 FT SQ.

Side Oats Grama Grass Tussock Sedge Pink Tickseed Siskyou Blue Fescue Burgundy Blanket Flower Whirling Butterflies Gaura Blue Flag Soft Rush Prairie Junegrass Cardinal Flower Scarlet Bee Balm Sensitive Fern Cinnamon Fern Royal Fern Beardtongue 'Husker Red' Garden Phlox Moss Phlox Indian Grass

Section Through House


Right Page: Log Cabin Etching 10”x14” 2004 Left Page: Cabin In the Woods Digital Photograph 2004


Original Digital Composition


3050 A.D. Ink on Bond 4”x5” squares 2008



3050 A.D. Ink on Bond 4”x5” squares 2008


Darren Leonardi 4111 Florence Drive, Johnsburg, IL 60051 815-861-7788/


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Bachelors of Landscape Architecture, May 2011 Related Coursework Regional Design Natural Precedent in Planting Site Design Community & Open Space Design Site Engineering Landscapes & Human Health Design Herbaceous Plants Woody Landscape Plants Landscape Construction Ken Blanchard Situational Leadership II program


AutoCAD, Adobe (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign), ArcGIS, Google Sketchup, Solidworks, drafting, model-making


Champaign County Forest Preserve District Planning Intern May 2010-December 2010 Designed the Homer Lake Natural Playscape. Developed maps, project specifications, and site engineering plans. Freelancer Northern IL and Southern WI, Summer 2009 Designed base plans, performed installations, worked as a landscaper, painter, carpenter, roofer, and general laborer.


American Society of Landscape Architects Student Chapter Member 2009-2010, Phi Gamma Delta Founding Father at University of Wisconsin-Madison 2008, Habitat for Humanity 2008, Hoofer Mountaineering Club 2006-2008

Darren Leonardi 2011 Landscape Architecture Portfolio  

The culmination of my work up until graduation in May 2011.