Copycats Wanted

From the December 2020 issue of  LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

By Timothy A. Schuler

A summer of collective soul-searching over the systemic nature of racism in America has spurred new investments in the education of young designers of color. Among them is the new Hollander Design Fellowship, a $4,000 annual academic scholarship available to students enrolled in the graduate landscape architecture program at the City College of New York’s Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture.

Established in August 2020, the new fellowship will be awarded to three graduate students per year for each year they are enrolled, for an annual total of $12,000. It is available to MLA candidates who identify as Black or African American, Latinx, or Alaskan Native or American Indian, or as a member of another cultural or ethnic group that is underrepresented in landscape architecture, including the LGBTQ community. The first three recipients, Miguelina Portorreal (class of 2021), Jeana Fletcher, Student ASLA (2022), and Mathew Brown Velasquez (2023), were announced in October. Three additional students received a one-time Hollander Design Award of $4,000. Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, ASLA, the director of City College’s graduate landscape architecture program, says the smaller award was established to respond to the large number of high-quality applications the school received.

Ed Hollander, FASLA, the president and a cofounder of Hollander Design Landscape Architects, says the fellowship was born out of office-wide conversations following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. “There was a day when all the designers were putting a black page on Instagram, and I just said, ‘That’s meaningless,’” he says. A fellowship appealed to Hollander for two reasons. First, he says, City College is “perennially underfunded,” and second, he believes that “long-term solutions are based on education.”

The fellowship arrives at a turbulent time for the Spitzer School of Architecture. In October, Lesley Lokko resigned as dean after less than one year in the position. In a statement, Lokko, a Black woman architect and educator, and most recently the director of the graduate school of architecture at the University of Johannesburg, called her decision to resign a “profound act of self-preservation,” citing a “lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women,” in the United States.

City College President Vince Boudreau said in a statement that Lokko’s vision was “expansive and ambitious and required a series of sweeping changes to the current curriculum.… We would have been thrilled had she been able to see these changes through to their completion but have accepted her resignation with deep regret.”

Seavitt Nordenson says Lokko’s departure is disappointing. But she is encouraged to see firms like Hollander Design invest in landscape architecture education for students underrepresented in the profession. She says the speed with which the fellowship was established, combined with the size of the award (paying for more than a third of City College’s annual tuition), is a demonstration of Hollander Design’s commitment to doing “something that was actionable, had credibility, and would be empowering in students’ lives for years to come.”

The fellowship joins several new or recent scholarships aimed at supporting design students of color. In 2018, SmithGroup launched the SmithGroup Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Scholarship, which provides a one-time award of $6,000 to up to five minority students enrolled in accredited architecture, interior design, planning, landscape architecture, or engineering degree programs. In September 2020, the SOM Foundation announced a $10,000 academic scholarship for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students studying architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, or engineering. Three awards will be given out each year.

Seavitt Nordenson says she hopes more firms will follow suit. “I would love if this becomes a copycat thing,” she says. “We could use more of this kind of fellowship.”

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