Is America ready to go faux? The answer may surprise you. Artificial grass—which traces its synthetic roots rather unglamorously to the athletic stadiums that first popularized Astroturf in the mid ’60s—is in vogue in certain landscape design circles. A clear indicator came this past November when model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen published an Instagram selfie next to a swimming pool. The caption? “Just got turf in at the office! I’m allergic to grass, so this is very exciting for me. Tea parties and picnics abound!!” 

One glance at the 800-plus comments, and it’s obvious that not everyone shares Teigen’s enthusiasm for an ersatz lawn, with one commenter writing, “I really hope this doesn’t inspire others to get turf…say no to covering the earth in more plastic!” Scroll a bit further, however, and a devotee declares the product “life changing.” Conclusion? The topic is polarizing—and not just on social media, which appears to be holding a zeitgeist-y mirror up to the landscape architecture community and its disparate POVs. 

“I’m not a fan,” says David Godshall, principal and cofounder of AD100 landscape studio Terremoto. Citing environmental concerns over the plastic composition of the product, Godshall also finds objection to its appearance: “To me, it looks unnatural.”

Fernando Wong, of the eponymous Florida-based firm, begs to differ: “Artificial grass is absolutely chic. It’s all about achieving a high-end look for not a lot of maintenance.” And for Hollander Design Landscape Architects’s Stephen Eich, partner and director of the practice’s urban studio, faux lawns have a time and place—in a decidedly city-mouse context. “Given the limitations we’re often faced with in urban environments, whether it be light levels in backyards or weight constraints on rooftops, artificial grass has definitely grown in popularity.” 

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There are reasons for that ascent. By and large, traditional, manicured lawns featuring a single species of grass require a great deal of care. “Once you incorporate a living lawn into an equation, someone has to be out there growing, clipping, and maintaining it one to two times a week during peak growing season,” notes Eich. For a faux lawn, a leaf blower and annual maintenance checks by the manufacturer for larger projects are the only requirements. The irrigation demands of grass, too, can be overwhelming for homeowners—particularly in drought-impacted states.

Reduced maintenance means prices for turf, though wildly varied, are competitive with a living lawn. “If you’re in Arizona the cost can be as low as $6 a square foot; in New York a rooftop can easily be $30 a square foot,” says Rob Dant, senior director of sales for SYNLawn, the largest manufacturer of artificial grass worldwide (and the brand of choice for the pro-faux landscape designers AD PRO interviewed). In general, that range comes down to the complexity of the project at hand: “In New York you might be shutting the street down to crane it up,” explains Dant, who notes that on average he sees projects stay in the ground for a 15-year lifespan.

Landscape Architecture 

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Bridget Moriarity