All posts by Angie Nelson

About Angie Nelson

Angie Nelson is DTJ’s correspondent in the field. She has a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and previously called Boulder, CO home for three years while working as a Designer at DTJ. She is now on a round the world trip / gap year to explore the world and learn everything she can from a life of travel. Read more about her adventures at

Ireland’s Dry Stone Walls

One of the most distinct elements of the Irish landscape is the dry stone walls.

stone walls_field

When visiting the countryside of Ireland these walls are visible in many different regions of the country. They are sometimes seen in dense groups, dividing the land into many small fields. Other times these walls are seen traversing steep terrain, leaving one wondering how they were even built. From a design perspective these walls are fascinating. There are several different types of Irish dry stone walls and of course the history of the walls is just as interesting.

 wall closeup1

Historically, the practice of building dry laid stone walls by hand dates way back and is not unique to just the Irish culture. In Ireland, many of the walls still standing today were built during the years of the Irish Famine, less than 200 years ago. The walls were built to separate and protect crop fields as well as create separated fields for livestock grazing.

A unique element of these walls is that they did not have gates. When livestock needed to be moved from one field to the next, the farmer would deconstruct part of the wall, move the animals through, and then rebuild the wall. This was possible because the walls were built without mortar. In fact, they were built without even a foundation. Often the stone used to build the wall came right from the field itself when the soil was cleared and prepared for planting.

 stone wall castles

The design of these walls, according to “Irish Stone Walls” by Patrick Mcafee, fits into three construction types: single, double, and combination. The single walls are thinner with just one layer of stacked stone. These walls look more precarious and let more wind through. The double walls are two stones thick so they are more stable and better protect the field, but are more time consuming to build. The final type, called combination, has a base that is a double wall and then a few feet up switches to a single wall. These different types of walls all have their advantages and are used in different regions of Ireland.

However, there are also distinct stylistic differences in the exact way the rocks are stacked. Some walls are made of big blocky boulders, others are flat slabs of rock that are stacked horizontally, other stacked vertically, and still others seem to be stacked randomly and look like they might topple over if pushed. These differences might be the result of a practical approach based on the type or shapes of stone used, they may be an artistic interpretation to give one farmer’s walls a distinct look from his neighbors, or they may be the result of a traditional way of building carried down by one family for generations. Either way they add a uniqueness to each wall when examined up close and one can come to appreciate the skill and patience it took to build these walls by hand.

Today, Ireland’s stone walls are a remnant of an older way of living. In many parts of the country the walls are still used, though now gates have been added. In just the last twenty years or so the walls have been recognized as an important cultural element. It is now becoming more common to see these walls appearing in communities and around homes as a design statement and nod to the tradition, both in Irish communities and around the world.

stone wall road

Appreciating Street Art in Belfast

Ireland is probably most often thought of as a beautiful green rolling countryside, perhaps with the image of coastline and rain, or maybe a colorful pub filled with music and Guinness.

guiness blefast blogguitar belfast blog

However, much to my surprise, the city of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, boasted some of the most creative and interesting “graffiti” I’ve run into in my travels. When examined closely it’s clear that this graffiti means so much more, they are works of art, perhaps some were commissioned, perhaps not. Either way, it was a wonderful surprise to come across such an array of public artwork.

sewing blefast blogbike_belfast blogarrows_belfast blog

Boulder’s First Parklet

A Design Competition for Boulder’s Parklet on The Hill

Design Competition Entry
Design Competition Entry

In the Spring of 2014, the City of Boulder, CO organized its first ever design competition to design and build a parklet. What exactly is a parklet? A parklet is a miniature, often temporary, park that replaces one to two parking spaces on the street and includes elements such as seating, landscape, and art. The goal of the City was to build a temporary parklet that would enhance the public space on University Hill as a first step in studying the future for streetscape improvements on the Hill.

A team of women, from DTJ and other backgrounds, came together to develop an entry for the design competition. The concept behind their design was “Doors Open, C’mon In” and played off the welcoming nature of the City of Boulder. Visitors come and go to enjoy Boulder’s lively downtown and the outdoor activities in the surrounding foothills, and students arrive as children and leave as educated adults.

The design for the 34’ long and 6’ wide parklet developed during an after work charrette in which the team gathered together to draw and discuss ideas. What developed was a wood deck with planters and benches all wrapped in a semi-transparent wall of repurposed windows and doors. The planters would showcase flowers and grasses all summer long, and repurposed kegs would contain fresh herbs for the local restaurants. Panels on the doors and windows would be chalkboards for visitors to leave their thoughts and answer the question: “What do you a-door about Boulder?”

Day 1 Build Volunteers
Day 2 Construction
Day 2 Construction

The team submitted a simple poster for the initial phase of the competition and made it, along with two other finalists, to the second round. For the second phase of the competition they submitted a 10 page document which included imagery, CAD plans, hand drawn details, and a budget for the project. When the winner was announced, the team was shocked, thrilled, and a bit overwhelmed, to have won the project.

In the weeks that followed the Doors Open team paired with a local metal fabricator, Coalesce Design & Fabrication, and an engineer, JVA Engineering, in order to further detail and design the structure. The team began gathering materials: doors, windows, lumber, kegs, and many other items through generous donations from local businesses. Weekends were spent picking up lumber, restudying the details on site, painting the doors and windows, and pre-building sections of the deck and benches.

The All-Women Design Team. Left to Right: Susan Wade, Tracy Colling, Marleen Hagen, Angie Nelson, Josie Kohnert, and Sandy Brown.
The All-Women Design Team. Left to Right: Susan Wade, Tracy Colling, Marleen Hagen, Angie Nelson, Josie Kohnert, and Sandy Brown.

On the weekend of the build, several of the DTJ staff joined the team to help in the construction of the parklet. On day one, the deck was constructed. On day two, the pre-welded planters were placed, the frame put up, the benches built, and the windows and doors were hung. On day three, the planters were filled, the flowers and grasses planted, and the deck stained. Built with all volunteer labor, the project was a huge success. Throughout the build, local business owners, neighbors, and passing students stopped by to excitedly watch the progress.

A week later the city held an official ribbon cutting ceremony for the parklet, but it was obvious it was already much loved as the chalkboards had been filled with drawings and descriptions of Boulder. In the fall the parklet was taken down and the materials again repurposed, but ultimately it taught those of us involved the value of even the smallest public spaces.

The Completed Parklet
The Completed Parklet