Fall 2023 Update from Gary R. Hilderbrand MLA ’85, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture
Dear Alumni and Friends of Landscape Architecture,
I bring you greetings from Cambridge during this eventful time in the fall semester. I understand that global events might be impacting you or your families, just as they’ve touched campus life, and I send my heartfelt support to each of you.
There is much to report about the coming year in the department. I also write to offer some reflections on my first full year as department chair.
I’ll go no further before acknowledging that almost no matter where you spent your summer, if you were in the northern hemisphere, you have likely felt the impact of the hottest July on record for the second year in a row. September also set records. You may have experienced dangerous levels of smoke covering much of the North American continent stemming from record-breaking fires in Canada. It seems this has been the year of recognition even for doubters and deniers—the evidence of crisis is overwhelming. The future is here. The warnings from climate scientists are coming true in ways more dire than anticipated. Our work toward a safer and more inclusive world is more urgent than ever.
Most of you know that the department has focused our curriculum on climate and environmental justice for some years. I follow in the footsteps of our past chair, Anita Berrizbeitia MLA ’87, who initiated our “Climate by Design” course and turned our core studios toward climate adaptation. My own efforts are furthering this agenda more broadly and deeply and bringing greater visibility to it in the university and the world.
This year, for instance, we’ve renovated “Climate by Design” to have a more precise focus on both mitigation and adaptation, and we plan for it to become the next Harvard online course so that anyone can access it remotely. We have a new course on all things carbon, including sequestration, calculation, and drawdown, taught by Lecturer Pamela Conrad LF ’23. Design Critic Rose Monacella hosted a symposium on October 18th and 19th on the future of pedagogy in the design studio—asking questions about studio culture, physical space, and innovative modes of learning. Professor Berrizbeitia and a team of seminar students are curating a major exhibit for the Druker Gallery in Gund Hall on the histories and futures of the forest—examining old growth, designed forests, oases, afforestation, urban forestry, and mega-forest projects around the world. Look for an announcement soon on the exhibition opening in January and a public symposium on the same topics in February.
Our option studio students have returned from their travels—six studios in all. They traveled to New York City with Visiting Design Critic Francesco Garafolo; to Monterrey with Design Critic Lorena Bello-Gomez MAUD ’11; to Puerto Rico with Assistant Professor Craig Douglas; to Ireland with Visiting Design Critics Tom Oslund MLA ’86 and Catherine Murray MLA ’86; to Rajasthan, northern India, with Aga Khan Visiting Professor Catherine Mosbach; and to Paris with Professor in Practice Bas Smets. These study trips provide one-of-a-kind on-the-ground learning and engagement for our students, and we are fortunate to have funding for them from a variety of sources, both internal and external. I’m especially grateful to our Development and Alumni Relations Office for their support in securing option studio funding.
Our faculty are capturing funding assistance for many climate adaptation studies. These include Associate Professor Gareth Doherty DDes ’10, who has a co-investigator role in a multi-year cross-disciplinary project funded by Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability on extreme needs for adaptation along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, where he conducted fieldwork this summer. Our Core IV studio, led by Design Critic Lorena Bello-Gomez, is working with the Boston Planning and Development Agency and other stakeholders on the development pressures and opportunities in Charlestown, where Boston’s Mayor Michelle Wu has directed formidable resources through her Green New Deal. Professor Charles Waldheim and Daniel Urban Kiley Fellow Kira Clingen MDes ’21, MLA ’21 are continuing to examine climate risk and adaptation on Cape Ann, and Associate Professor Danielle Choi MLA ’08 is leading a team of faculty and students studying sea level rise and the devastating impacts of birch leaf disease on forest cover on Naushon Island, off the south coast of Massachusetts. These projects demonstrate our commitment to climate, to fieldwork and engagement with underserved communities, and to the urgent need for design to address the pressing crises of our time. Our reworked GSD website landing page now demonstrates this commitment with renewed emphasis.
Following through on our pledge to strengthen ties to design practice in the department, we have introduced three new practice seminars this year. Lecturer Alexis Landes MLA ’10, managing partner at SCAPE, is teaching a course on defining innovative critical practices by learning from disciplines beyond design and planning. Assistant Professor in Practice Jungyoon Kim MLA ’00 has been researching the origins and development of landscape architecture practices in Asian cultures, and will offer a new seminar on this topic, another first for the department. Gareth Doherty, who spent the past year traveling across the African continent, visiting nearly all landscape departments and meeting practitioners, will teach a seminar on the future of landscape architecture education and practice in Africa. These courses will unleash new potentials for our disciplinary impact around the globe.
Our students are thriving in other ways. This past summer, we had students carrying out internships and fellowships in a variety of places—in design firms, as is customary, but also with several institutions, including the historic garden and sustainable agricultural farm at Courances, France; at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC; at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston; and at Liminal Associazione in Rome, Italy. These will all continue for the next year alongside our robust student research and travel grant program supported by the department’s Penny White Project Fund. Last year, 20 travel grants were awarded to students.
Last year’s graduating class offers one stellar example: during her second year in the MLA I program, Alex Berkowitz MLA ’23 prototyped an inflatable storm surge wave barrier that emerged out of her Core III studio project. She received funding from the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge Ingenuity Award in 2022 and the Harvard Innovation Labs Climate Circle 2023 cohort to support the development and testing of a prototype. Last month, during Climate Week in New York City, Alex’s startup company was awarded a $25,000 prize from the Clinton Global Initiative. Hats off, Alex!
This past June, thanks to all-out support from our friends at Landscape Forms, the GSD hosted a roundtable entitled “Women in Landscape Architecture: Amplifying Our Voices.” With an impressive roster of teachers, practitioners, and students, the forum provided a check-in on the ascent of women in practice, a deep dive on the factors that have limited opportunity, and an exploration of the potential to eliminate barriers. Participants resolved that there is much more work to be done.
A few faculty updates: David Moreno Mateos, our assistant professor of ecology, has accepted a tenured position at Oxford University, and we wish him every success in his new role as associate professor of macroecology. This fall, we are sad to see beloved colleagues Tat Bonvehi Rosich and Mark Heller MLA ’19, MUP ’19 depart Cambridge, and we thank them for their incredible teaching and camaraderie. Our faculty searches are in high gear with promising candidates. Bas Smets assumed his position as professor in practice this fall, and this year we also welcome an amazing set of lecturers and design critics to supplement our ladder faculty and multi-year visitors. They include Pamela Conrad, Alexis Landes, Francesco Garafolo, Abby Spinak, Adam Anderson, Ignacio Bunster-Ossa LF ’93, Kira Clingen, Elaine Stokes MLA ’16, DDes ’25, Estefania Fernandez Barrancos, and Scott Geiger. Returning this year to teach studios and seminars, we have Kotchakorn Voraakhom MLA ’06, Charles Birnbaum LF ’98, Catherine Mosbach, Tom Oslund, Catherine Murray, Nina-Marie Lister, and Luis Callejas. As you can see, this faculty is second to none.
We are grateful to ASLA and to LAAB for spearheading a superb effort this year to convince the Department of Homeland Security that landscape architecture is a STEM discipline. That battle has finally been won. The change brings many benefits, including the promise that more youth will be guided toward the field in their early years, and that our international graduates will have a longer runway to work in the US after they receive their degrees.
Sadly, we mourn two alumni who passed in recent weeks. John Leehey MLA ’87 died tragically in a random mass shooting near his home in Trabuco Canyon, California, and Claude Cormier MDes ’94, one of Canada’s leading landscape architects and a passionate spokesperson for the profession, passed away after a four-year fight with cancer. We salute both for their loyalty to the GSD and their enduring contributions to our discipline.
I want to say a special word about our distinguished colleague Stephen Ervin, who retired this year from his dual position as assistant dean for information technology and design critic in landscape architecture. Stephen’s teaching and service to the GSD has been singularly brilliant for so many reasons. He has been an earnest innovator in the mapping and computing world, an inventor and steward of the GSD’s digital culture and infrastructure, and a generous, humane partner in all things. We will miss him. He’s not going away completely, just yet—he’s teaching with Assistant Professor Craig Douglas in an option studio that is simultaneously working at the local and territorial scales in Puerto Rico. We are ever grateful to Stephen for his dedication to the department and the school.
Finally, we had a wonderful GSD gathering at this year’s ASLA conference in Minneapolis, with over 170 alumni, students, and faculty in attendance. During this reception, we celebrated the GSD alumni community, and our alumni had a chance to reconnect with each other and engage with the GSD. I shared brief updates on the department and recognized GSD alumni who were elevated to FASLA. I also used this time to speak about the conflicts happening around the world and how our culture of care at the GSD is needed more than ever. And last but not least, I want to thank our ever-loyal Tom Oslund MLA ’86 for generously supporting this event.
On behalf of a hugely supportive Dean Sarah Whiting, a stellar and devoted faculty, and our always remarkable students, I send you my best wishes for the season. Do reach out to me if there is anything you would like to know more about. We have a lot to say!
Gary R. Hilderbrand FASLA, FAAR, MLA ’85
Reed Hilderbrand LLC | 130 Bishop Allen Drive Cambridge MA 02139
Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture | Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor in Practice
Harvard University Graduate School of Design