Fall Update—Department of Landscape Architecture
Dear Landscape Architecture Alumni,
I bring you greetings from Cambridge, where the autumn weather has been beautiful, and we are already past the midpoint of our fall semester. It’s my great pleasure to report that from where I sit, the mood in the school is positive and upbeat. Our “Back to School” gathering in early September hit the right notes with Dean Sarah Whiting and the program chairs sharing thoughts on the year ahead, followed by a Beer ‘n Dogs barbecue in the back garden for students, faculty, and staff. The relief among all parties upon a full and largely unmasked return was palpable. We also had a fantastic set of events around the GSD Comeback in mid-September, when returning alumni engaged in faculty-led “mini-courses,” witnessed our Dean Whiting honoring alums for achievements and service, and celebrated with friends at a raucous front porch party. This all occurred alongside our Alumni Council’s first in-person meeting in several years. And this momentum remains strong just after mid-semester reviews.
Many of you are aware of the Olmsted 200 events throughout the nation in honor of Frederick Law Olmsted’s bicentennial birth year. The department held a well-attended two-day event in September entitled Olmsted: Bicentennial Perspectives. Many notable speakers brought forward newly critical readings of Olmsted Sr.’s work and that of his successors. Professor Ethan Carr MLA ’91, of the University of Massachusetts Department of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning, gave the Annual Frederick Law Olmsted lecture as keynote for the symposium. I am immensely grateful to Professor Anita Berrizbeitia MLA ’87 and most especially senior lecturer Ed Eigen for organizing this superb event.
We are all feeling the urgency of the climate crisis like never before. The extreme heat and drought this past summer here in Massachusetts was the worst I can remember in 40 years of practicing here. The deadly flooding in Pakistan left more than 1,700 dead and 33 million people impacted by the worst rains in decades. One-third of the country was submerged, and the damage is devastating. The Pearl River in Mississippi crested at 36 feet twice this year. That has happened only once before. Flooding and failed infrastructure intersected in Jackson, Mississippi, leaving the city without potable water for weeks. Forests burned in France and Spain this summer. And 18-foot surges from Hurricane Ian caused at least 119 deaths in Florida and adjoining states. Florida, in particular, will take years to recover.
Our faculty and students are directly addressing the urgent hazards of climate risk, the need to decarbonize our energy use and our material and construction practices, and the need to pursue the cause of environmental justice through design everywhere we can. To give you a palpable feel for this revolution in curriculum, I need only describe our current semester’s option studios, many of which have included international travel. In Guinea-Bissau, for instance, in West Africa, a studio with design critic Silvia Benedito MAUD ’04 is facing matters of food sovereignty in the face of extreme drought and fire risk. In the Mexican Altiplano with visiting design critic Lorena Bello-Gomez MAUD ’11 is leading a pursuit of the return to liquidity in the face of severe lack of water resources. In the Texcoco region of Mexico with Lecturer in Landscape Architecture, Montserrat Bonvehi-Rosich, students are tackling matters of polluted waste, drought, and land subsidence on a massive scale.
In Portland, Oregon, with visiting design critics Gina Ford MLA ’03 and Anyeley Hallova MLA ’03, students are working with an organization that treats children suffering from the traumatic effects of child welfare injustices and incarceration. In Iceland, with Surfacedesign design critics James Lord MLA ’96 and Roderick Wyllie MLA ’98, students are examining intelligent energy landscapes, individual responsibility, and bodily sensory experience—baths included. In Luxemburg, students are examining decarbonization of the entire territory with visitors Aglaee Degros and Stefan Bendix. With Sergio Lopez-Pinero, students are electing climate, ecological, or justice issues on sites of their own choosing in communities facing conflict. And a studio with design critic Danilo Martic is designing massive temporary settlements caused by forced migration, incarceration, natural or human disasters like those just mentioned, or religious affiliation. How very timely.
When I look at the option studios across all three departments, in fact, and at the coursework and final projects in the advanced design study programs and in design engineering, I see a correlation of issues and inquiries that is remarkable in its overlap of environmental, political, and justice drivers. We are using varying tools and modes of inquiry, asking differently framed questions, of course. But I would venture this: The time we are living in is marked by greater urgency in these questions, and I see that all students in all the programs in the school are facing them accordingly—to a degree, I would assert, that is unprecedented. I for one am glad for this alignment, and I trust we’ll find useful differences and productive overlaps. That excites me about the GSD at this time.
Because of former chair Anita Berrizbietia’s MLA ’87 excellent stewardship for the past seven years, I am working with outstanding faculty and amazing staff in the department. But we have had several retirements and a few departures in the past two years. My number one priority for this academic year is to secure additional design faculty for the department. We have four searches running concurrently, and I am deeply grateful for the leadership of Professors Niall Kirkwood and Ed Eigen, and to the many other faculty who are working on our behalf in these searches. In case it is of interest, you can see these positions described on the GSD website, on the Open Faculty Positions page. And, if you have recommendations for us, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.
We are gearing up for our first alumni gathering at the ASLA Conference in a few years, this time in San Francisco, on Saturday, November 12th. I look forward to seeing many of you there and at other events over the weekend. Please introduce yourselves to our nine student members who are traveling to the conference with financial support from the department!
I welcome hearing from you whenever you are moved to reach out. Thanks for paying attention to the department!
With my warmest wishes.
Gary R Hilderbrand FASLA FAAR he | him
Reed Hilderbrand LLC | 130 Bishop Allen Drive Cambridge MA 02139 | 617 923 2422
Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture | Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor in Practice
Harvard University Graduate School of Design | 48 Quincy Street G312 Cambridge MA 02138 | 617 495 2367