Chair: Nancy A. Takahashi
Our focus in Landscape Architecture is on urban space and dynamic forms. We take a question–driven approach to exploring the design of landscapes as an important part of what it means to be human in our time. We engage critical issues in our teaching, research and practice that we believe should influence all landscapes, including attention to social justice and cultural meaning, the need to renew polluted landscapes and support biodiversity, and a demand for urban adaptations to global climate change. Our concerns and the cases we examine through design are both urban and international, bringing our students from New Orleans to New York and from the Bronx to Berlin. We invite people to join us for graduate study who aspire to be leaders in our discipline.
What do we do here?
We seek to be the very best at helping students learn to design a more sustainable and just world. Our faculty and students address critical issues and creative innovations that we believe should influence the design of all landscapes, including attention to social justice and cultural history, the need to renew industrial sites and support diverse ecosystems, and urban adaptations to global climate change. We motivate our students to seek leadership roles in the discipline, whether in practice or academia. Our teaching philosophy encourages graduate students to bring their previous intellectual interests and skills into their work in Landscape Architecture, while learning the creative process of design and developing an ability to express innovative proposals about the built environment. The curriculum introduces landscape form and process issues at a wide variety of scales, and builds a strategic understanding of ecological, construction and social issues that influence choices of form and materials. We emphasize the use of dynamic forms that bring new performance capacity to the built environment, and treat landscape as an extensive armature of systems as well as a site of intervention.
Our commitment to excellence has been recognized by the Design Intelligence rankings, where we are consistently among the top-ranked programs in the country. Perhaps even more importantly, given that we have the luxury of running a relatively small graduate program, DI’s associated Deans and Chairs ranking recognized us in 2010 as one of the top three programs in the country, noting that we are admired for teaching excellence and community contributions. In addition, Associate Professor Elizabeth Meyer was recently identified by DI on their list of 25 Nationally Admired Educators of 2011.
As part of our core intellectual focus, our students are asked to explore different positions that ask and answer questions about what it means to be human in our time. They use their knowledge of theory, history, arts, and science to develop these positions and express them through landscape forms and materials as well as words. We believe that stating these positions helps to bring a high level of critical thinking to our studio education along with design innovation, and is a significant component of understanding design expression as an art.
We have offered graduate education in landscape architecture since 1970, providing graduate study programs for people with undergraduate degrees in the humanities and sciences, and also an advanced study program for people with prior degrees in design who wish to explore a specialized area of design research. We typically have forty to fifty students in our graduate program, within a School of Architecture that has 200 graduate students in total.
Our studios are the center of life in the Department, and are strongly focused on urban issues in large and medium–sized cities in the US and elsewhere. Studios address performance challenges that are timeless, such as the desire for cultural meaning to be expressed in public space, as well as challenges that are urgently linked to present and future conditions, such as adaptation to climate change, sustainability and social justice, or biodiversity conservation. Our commitment to sustainability in design is school–wide, and has been recognized internationally in the achievements of our faculty and students.
While our emphasis in studios is squarely on contemporary urban design challenges, we appreciate the connection that UVa has to the history of American political philosophy and design through Thomas Jefferson. The status of the University’s grounds as a globally significant design innovation and World Heritage Site reminds us to question claims of originality or normative theoretical shifts by asking how the present and future are linked to the past. We believe that understanding the present in relation to the past deepens the rigor of our explorations, and supports our ability to propose radical alternatives to traditional practices. Our discipline needs its intellectual history in order to take on a leadership role as we address the future.
In order to make studios more rigorous, we link our lecture, workshop and seminar courses to the life and work of studios whenever possible. The first year core studios study landscapes in the local area, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains, so that students can visit them frequently and develop their ability to read landscapes in multiple dimensions. Advanced studios typically work in other cities, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia, Trenton, New Jersey and this semester Venice and Barcelona. Summer workshops bring students to learn about cities outside the US, most recently taking groups to Hamburg in Germany, and Amsterdam, and Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Options also exist to explore urban sites and issues using Charlottesville examples, or to pursue independent studio topics located in the US and abroad with the support of a faculty advisor.
Who should apply?
If you wish to be a leader in this field, we invite you to join us in our work with urban communities and urban landscapes. Our educational program is very demanding, but the exceptional opportunity we offer our students to learn, question, and develop their own approach to these urgent matters is also exceptionally rewarding. The people who are best suited to our program understand that success as a design leader requires consistent effort and rigorous reflection, as well as a sense of humor and integrity in collaborative work.
Applicants are welcome from any previous field of study. We try to balance our incoming classes with students from the humanities, fine arts, and the sciences. In our admissions process, we look for people who bring diverse strengths but share a common flexibility to learn about landscapes through language, images, and numbers. We are always interested to hear from international applicants, as well as students who wish to practice in diverse communities here in the US, since we believe there are many lessons to be learned from cultural diversity in design. We work very hard to support students who have limited financial resources using fellowships as well as work opportunities, and try to remove cost barriers to the greatest extent possible for applicants who seem well–suited to our program. Please review our faculty members’ work and interests before writing your application statement, and refer to the people you would like to work with so that we understand that you know what we actually do, and that you want to participate in the life of our Department.
Current Initiatives that Affect the Life of the Department
Four on–going curriculum initiatives reflect our commitment to leadership in our field: our Joint Curriculum with Architecture, our ecotech course sequence, continuing experiments in the representation of dynamic environments, and our international network of collaborating schools.
First, we have formalized a “Joint Curriculum” with the Master of Architecture curriculum of the Department of Architecture. The blended curriculum creates opportunities for our students to gain unique flexibility for interdisciplinary design work that involves buildings as well as landscape and infrastructure systems. By placing our students with Architecture students in studios and other courses at the beginning, middle, and end of our curriculum,our students learn to take leadership roles in mixed–discipline teams, achieve unusual fluency in theoretical concepts relevant to both fields, and gain confidence in shaping buildings as structural components of landscapes. This is helpful for our graduates both as they seek entry–level positions and as they develop leadership roles over the length of their careers. Our partnership with Architecture fosters collaboration by stressing design rigor and developing a shared language between the disciplines, bringing students and faculty into joint studios that address hybrid concepts of form and place in various international contexts. In addition to this primary partnership, we also rely on collaborations with colleagues in our School’s Departments of Urban and Environmental Planning and Architectural History, with a number of our students undertaking dual degrees in Landscape Architecture and Urban and Environmental Planning
Our second major effort has been to establish an innovative curriculum model that draws on our strengths in theory and history while adding significant new capacity. Our “eco–tech” courses re–center our teaching of technology around contemporary ecological theory and the lessons of applied science. The eco–tech curriculum also links our technical courses directly to our studios, in order to bring current ecological and hydrological knowledge into our students’ design work. Our ambition is to present all of the traditional skills of the profession (grading, drainage, contract documents, plant identification, and so on) through an ecological lens, so that our students can address the critical issues of our time from a position that integrates scientific knowledge and cultural perspectives. For example, we have launched a new plants course that combines explorations of cultural goals in planted form with performance goals based on the ecological functions of plant species.
In the area of representation, our ongoing efforts to innovate in design education involve thoughtful experiments that interweave digital and manual modes of representation. Our goal is to connect ideas to images in ways that allow us to explore issues relevant to our time and place, for example, the increasing recognition that dynamic processes such as flows of water, food, fuel and living organisms can be an explicit component of form–giving in built landscapes. We encourage our students to push the capacity of all representation techniques to the point where they generate new ideas about meaning, form, and dynamic change.
Finally and most recently, our Department has made several recent commitments to international collaboration in design education. This is very important in both a global economy and an era of significant global environmental trends. We expect several trends that affect many regions of the world to influence our graduates’ professional careers, including changing global economic investment patterns, continuing urbanization, water shortages, health threats, and climate change impacts. Students in our program are exposed to the ideas and design work of visitors from China, Mexico, and the Europe Union, among other countries and regions. We teach a required travel studio to New Orleans that has involved teams of students from China and Germany, in order to study the common challenges of globalizing cities and identify different strengths in our educations and skills.
We have also established collaborations with a network of European design programs and Peking University in China, in order to compare our ideas with some of the best landscape architecture programs in the world. With these partnerships, our graduates are guaranteed an opportunity to ascertain that their knowledge and design ideas are relevant on an international as well as a national scale. We believe this is a very important advantage for today’s graduating professional students. Our invited lecture series brings prominent practitioners from Europe and Asia to UVa, including Dirk Sijmons — the former Dutch National Landscape Architect — and Kongjian Yu, who is arguably the most influential landscape architect in China. Charlottesville has become an international crossroads due to our commitment to collaboration, as evidenced by the 2009 Woltz Symposium on adaptive infrastructure, which brought speakers from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and China.
Special Events and Opportunities for Students
Each year the Department offers a number of special travel opportunities for students, as well as lecture and symposium events that bring in outside professionals and academics to address issues we are passionate about. The funding for these opportunities and events comes from generous endowment gifts by alumni and friends of the Department, which makes it stable from year to year and allows us to turn Charlottesville into an international crossroads. We have also been successful in nominating our students for national awards, including the American Society of Landscape Architects’ top student design award and the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s new Olmsted Scholar Award, a highly competitive national award that was won by one of our students in 2009.
The Woltz Symposium occurs every three years, and generates opportunities for students to speak with genuine leaders in the cross–disciplinary areas where Landscape Architecture and Architecture overlap with engineering, medical sciences, environmental sciences, and other important fields.In fall of 2009, we organized a symposium on adaptive urban infrastructure that brought internationally–renowned designers and strategists from China, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada together with some of the most prominent US theorists and policy makers on this issue. The next Woltz Symposium in 2012 will draw designers from around the world who are seeking new solutions for urban infrastructural systems that better incorporate natural systems and their dynamics, and reject past modern mechanistic, technological approaches.
We also sponsor annual lectures as well, including the Thaler lecture — which brings one of the world’s most prominent designers of landscapes to UVa each year — and the Howland lecture, which brings a designer or planner to speak about leadership in the design of public landscapes. Past Thaler lecturers have included Kongjian Yu from Beijing, Michael Van Valkenburgh from New York, Ingbritt Liljekvist and Tomas Saxgard from Stockholm, and Adriaan Geuze from Rotterdam. Past Howland lecturers have included the designers of the Zaragoza Water Park in Spain (Alday + Jover and Christine Dalnoky), Majora Carter, a MacArthur Award recipient and founder of Sustainable South Bronx, Shlomo Aronson from Jerusalem, and Michael Pollan from the US. In addition to Department lectures and events, the School brings renowned speakers as recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture, including recent winners such as Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Prime Minister of Norway and author of the UN’s first text on sustainable development, Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi architect currently teaching in Austria who has pushed the boundaries of building form and cultural meaning, and the artist Robert Irwin.
Students are eligible to apply for an annual travel fellowship, the Howland Traveling Fellowship, which provides up to $10,000 to support an independent project in documentation of a landscape that has cultural and/or ecological significance.. In 2009, the winner went to Africa to study cultural adaptations in a dynamic floodplain landscape in Zambia. This year, the winner used the Howland Fellowship to study the impact of geothermal infrastructures on the form of two towns in Iceland.
Funded travel opportunities are a required part of our curriculum, and have sent students to New Orleans for the past three years in a joint urban studio with Architecture students. Other funded travel is available in summer. For the past two years, Assistant Professor Jorg Sieweke has led a group of UVA students (the only invited U.S. landscape architecture program) to participate in the European Master’s Workshop in Landscape Architecture. In 2009, they traveled to Hamburg for that event and linked it to a trip to the Netherlands to develop an exhibit for the Thaler lecture by Dirk Sijmonds of the Netherlands. Last summer’s workshop was held in Amsterdam. We also participate in a network known as Universitas 21, an international collaboration that brings faculty and students to UVa and abroad to address cross–disciplinary design issues such as the design of learning environments
Our students have performed very well in national award competitions, such as the Olmsted Scholar program. The Olmsted Scholar is selected by the Landscape Architecture Foundation. In 2008, one of our students was a finalist for the first–ever Olmsted Scholar award, and in 2009, a UVa Landscape Architecture student (David Malda) won that $25,000 prize. Last fall 2011, five of our graduate students received national design honor awards at the Annual Meeting of ASLA in San Diego,. Internally, the Department faculty determines the winner of the Abbott Award at the end of each year based on the leadership potential of students in design, which also represents a substantial prize and an opportunity for unique travel experiences.
The design of landscape is a significant cultural practice that tangibly expresses human intentions and values in the built form. Our accredited graduate professional program synthesizes the study of ecological systems and cultural contexts, preparing graduates for leadership roles on multi–disciplinary teams.
Throughout our curriculum, we act on our commitment to revitalize communities through cultural interventions in forms and processes at the scale of sites, neighborhoods, urban infrastructure systems, and metropolitan watersheds.
We support a wide range of interdisciplinary explorations by our students in Architecture, Architectural History, Urban and Environmental Planning, Art, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Law and Commerce. Our consistent emphasis is on understanding the international context for trends and insights in our discipline, so that our students can make significant contributions outside the US as well as nationally.