LAF Fellows Zero in on Public Policy

The inaugural Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership program will fund research on school landscapes, homelessness, K-12 eduction, and water infrastructure in India.

By Zach Mortice 

Image courtesy of LAF.

The Landscape Architecture Foundation has announced its first group of Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership recipients, whose research projects all involve the civic design and public policy implications of landscape architecture.

The four practicing landscape architects and academics announced in March will receive $25,000 to research their proposals for one year, with three months of that year dedicated to intensive full-time study. When the fellowships conclude in the spring of 2018, these four landscape designers will present their work at a symposium in Washington, D.C.

Claire Latané, ASLA. Image courtesy of LAF.

The LAF unveiled the fellowship program in June of 2016, its 50th anniversary. Executive Director Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, cites the “need for leadership in the profession to assert the landscape perspective, the value of design, practice, and advocacy” as motivation for this new research opportunity. She hopes the fellowship can be “an incubator of ideas, to do something transformational for the practice.”

These kinds of ambitions have led to research that goes beyond purely design-oriented project-scale prescriptions into the wider world of public policy and how laws and regulations dictate what landscape architects create. Public policy is a way to answer the question, “What is the benefit and the impact on the broader profession?” says Jennifer Low, ASLA, an LAF program manager.

Claire Latané, ASLA, a senior associate at Mia Lehrer + Associates in Los Angeles, will examine the ways that the Los Angeles Unified School District’s landscape planning guidelines can better incorporate biophilic benefits for children at schools that have quality access to nature, trees, and multifunctional landscapes. Latané’s efforts will focus on assembling a communications and advocacy plan to change how the nation’s second-largest public school district views its landscapes.

Brice Maryman, ASLA. Image courtesy of LAF.

Research by Brice Maryman, ASLA, a senior landscape architect with MIG|SvR in Seattle, will assert landscape architects as experts perfectly positioned to redefine how the design of public spaces ameliorates chronic homelessness, and to make these public forums more successful for all. It’s meant to reaffirm all individuals’ right to space within the city and to engage government agencies, nonprofits, designers, and politicians.

Research by Nicole Plunkett, ASLA, will build on the track record of the nonprofit she founded in 2015, Future Landscape Architects of America (FLAA). FLAA connects landscape educators and practitioners with K–12 students to build better awareness of the profession and increase its diversity. A landscape architect with Cotleur & Hearing in Jupiter, Florida, Plunkett has garnered support for her nonprofit from more than a dozen volunteer landscape architects, as well as the landscape architecture programs at the University of Florida and Florida International University.

Nicole Plunkett, ASLA. Image courtesy of LAF.

In India, there is only one landscape architect for every 1.59 million people, and Alpa Nawre, ASLA, an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Kansas State University, wants to address this gap. She’ll be assembling a landscape infrastructure plan for an existing settlement in India that demonstrates all the respect for native materials, flora, and regional construction methods that the best contemporary Western projects do. With a particular emphasis on sustainable water management and plans to build part of her scheme in India, she hopes to bring these design practices to a region of the world where they’re very often absent but exceptionally needed.

Alpa Nawre, ASLA. Image courtesy of LAF.

Mentorship is another important focus for the fellowship. The four recipients will be grouped with past student Olmsted Scholars so they can compare notes on their own research, led by more experienced midcareer designers the new fellowship program focuses on. Deutsch says it’s important to develop the leadership and mentorship skills of midcareer landscape architects because the last decade’s historic economic downturn hammered so many of them out of the profession. “The middle fell out of firms,” she says, “so there wasn’t the time, the capacity, or the people there to mentor the new professionals entering the firm.” Scott Douglas, ASLA, (a 2016 University Olmsted Scholar) and Harriett Jameson, Associate ASLA, (a 2014 Olmsted Scholar Finalist) will attend three-day residency sessions and take part in monthly calls with the LAF Fellows. Deutsch says the Olmsted Scholars are continually hungry for mentorship opportunities, leading LAF organizers to ask, “How can we structure a program to pay it forward and pass it on?”

Zach Mortice is a Chicago-based architecture and landscape architecture journalist. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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