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HILLworks Honored for Research


HILLworks received two awards from the Alabama ASLA, a Design Award of Merit for the Transformation Garden, and a Research Award of Merit for the Phenology Project. The two projects reveal the interrelated nature of research and design. HILLworks is the design practice of Prof. David Hill, Assistant Professor in APLA’s Landscape Architecture Program.

The Phenology Project began with careful observation of how plants change through time.  Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal lifecycle events and how these events are influenced by seasonal and climatic variation. For centuries, garden designers have advocated that a garden provide visual interest throughout the seasons. This pursuit often manifested itself in flowers and fall color, which is merely scratching the surface of plant qualities. Landscape Architects have the opportunity to extend our understanding beyond the visual stimulation of flower sequences and fall color into intentional, ecologically-rich spatial relationships that evolve and transform through the seasons. This choreography could include all strata of planted form, from the mosaics of the ground plane to the high canopy of trees. Within this view, tree rows become ephemeral scrims that provide opacity and habitat in the summer and transparency in the winter. Landscape rooms defined by deciduous shrubs and perennials emerge and vanish within the cycles of the season. In order to employ dynamic seasonal qualities of plants in design proposals, we need to understand more about how plants change, especially how the transparency, tones, and textures fluctuate through the year.  Through a series of still photographs taken from the same vantage point at the same time each week, the ephemerality of a specific palette of plants has been chronicled through an entire season. Thus far, a total of 15,396 photographs have been taken of 32 species, captured every 7 days for 1 year.

The Transformation Garden extends this research into a design exploration.  Within the eastern terrace, the phenology garden is an exploration into how plants can be seasonally choreographed to create dynamic spatial and textural variations in the garden.  In one season, this terrace is an open, clean volume, defined by minimal hedges and walls.  In another season, masses of plants emerge to create separate smaller ephemeral rooms within the garden.  The groundplane is consistently mulched in gravel to amplify the seasonal variability of the plants, eliminating any distinction on the ground between planting areas or paths.  The first two years of experimentation revolved around annual plants, but a selection of bulbs, perennials, and shrubs are on deck for the next round.

The Transformation Garden is located around a 1920s structure that was repurposed by HILLworks into a home.  This garden as well as the home was recently published in the August 2013 issue of Remodeling (“Mixed Use,” by Stacey Freed, pp 47‒50; and the September /October 2013 issue of Birmingham Home & Garden (“Industrial Evolution,” by Cathy Still McGowin, pp 64‒71; For more information, please visit

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