KINGSTON, Sept. 14, 2017—Twenty-five years ago, the University of Rhode Island launched a lecture series featuring landscape architects from the region.
Back then, speakers talked mostly about community design projects. The profession has evolved over the years, and so have the lectures.
Themes today involve issues with global reach—climate change, urbanism, environmental degradation, habitat loss and sustainability. And speakers live and work throughout the world.
“The role of landscape architects has changed dramatically,” says William Green, creator of the series and a professor in URI’s Landscape Architecture Department. “Landscape architects are solving the world’s problems. They understand engineering, architecture and planning, and are skilled at working with social scientists. Now their projects are big and complex.”
The annual series will continue next month with a lecture Oct. 5 by Jared Sell, a 2012 URI graduate who will discuss how he helps design Walt Disney theme parks, including Avatar World and Star Wars.
Free and open to the public, “Walt Disney Imagineering: Bringing Designs to Life” will start at 7 p.m. in the Richard E. Beaupre Center for Chemical and Forensic Sciences Center, 140 Flagg Road on URI’s Kingston campus.
“The lecture series was a staple of my time at URI,” says Sell. “It has always been on the cutting edge, bringing in industry leaders and innovators. The series exposed me to the endless opportunities of landscape architecture. Having the chance now to be a part of the series allows alumni, such as myself, to show our pride and gratitude for URI.”
Inspired by lectures he attended at Harvard when he was living in Cambridge, Mass., Green says he started the URI series to expose students to creative ideas from renowned landscape architects and alumni who’ve made a mark in their profession.
“It’s critical,” says Green, “for students to see what is being planned and built by designers at the top of their field.”
In the beginning, speakers focused on topics like how to create a Japanese garden or what to plant along highways. As worries mounted about climate change, the environment and a population shift to cities, the topics took on greater urgency, focusing instead on the revival of urban landscapes, connecting people to nature and preserving historic landscapes.
Green says his list of speakers is a “who’s-who” of landscape architects.
Speakers, some from as far away as Mexico and South Africa, have included Charles Birnbaum, president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation; Brad McKee, editor of “Landscape Architecture Magazine;” Patricia O’Donnell, an expert in landscape preservation and founder and principal of Heritage Landscapes; Laurie Olin, whose Philadelphia firm designed the landscape at the Washington Monument; Julius Fabos, professor emeritus of the Landscape Architecture Department at the University of Massachusetts; and the late Ian McHarg, a world-famous landscape architect from Scotland.
URI alumni have given talks, and speakers from colleges—Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, among others—have also shared their expertise.
Speakers have enlightened audience members about everything from green urbanism and rooftop gardens to storm water control and landscape designs in hospitals that promote healing.
One speaker talked about the aesthetics of wind farms; another about how to manage and preserve cultural landscapes like public parks, farms, historic sites and cemeteries.
Controlling water quality during construction, designing landscapes for athletic facilities, helping small towns with sustainable design and smart growth, and preserving iconic cultural landscapes, like cemeteries, have also been popular.
Attendance has been excellent, says Green. Anywhere from 50 to 100 people—students, faculty and community members—have attended each session. Students and the speaker often meet for dinner before the talk, giving students a chance to share their ideas and projects.
“This has been a 25-year labor of love for me,” says Green. “The series has evolved to address the important issues of our time. Landscape architecture has become an environmental profession that is about protecting and visualizing the future, here and throughout the world.”
Other speakers in this year’s lecture series will be:
Oct. 26, John Amodeo, principal CRJA-IBI Group, Boston, Mass., on “The Christian Science Plaza: Bringing an Iconic Mid-Century Urban Plaza into the Present.”
Nov. 9, Eric Kramer, principal, Reed Hilderbrand, Watertown, Mass., on “Innovation and Tradition in an Increasingly Complex World.”
Nov. 30, Barbara Wilks, principal, W Architecture, New York, N.Y.
Dec. 7, Stephen Stimson, principal, Stimson Associates, Boston, Mass., on “Wildness.”
March 8, Peter Trowbridge, principal, TWM, Ithaca, N.Y.
April 5, Signe Nielsen, principal, Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, on “Waterproofing New York.”
April 19, Mario Schjetnan, principal, Grupo Urbano, Mexico City, on “World Trends and Landscape Architecture.”
April 26, Jamie Maslyn Larson, principal, Wagner Hodgson, Burlington, N.Y.
The series is co-sponsored by Bartlett Tree Experts, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Gaetano and Pasqualina Faella Endowment, URI College of Business Administration, and URI’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design. Sell’s lecture is co-sponsored by URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, and Eric Kramer’s talk is co-sponsored by Victor Stanley, a landscape furnishing company.
For more information about the series, contact the URI Department of Landscape Architecture at 401-874-2983 or Professor Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.