In late November, the University of Pennsylvania named the new chair of its landscape architecture department: the Australian landscape architect Richard Weller. The previous chair, James Corner, ASLA, had led the department since 2000 and will continue to be a professor there. I recently caught up with Weller on his wife’s cell phone and asked him about his plans for the department. What follows is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.
Is there a reason why you don’t have your own cell phone?
To be honest, I just don’t like telephones. I just thought that was sort of intrusive—you randomly ring up people and dial into their lives. I prefer email.
What drew you to the landscape architecture department at the University of Pennsylvania?
There has been a sequence of people at Penn who have been very influential and led the academic discipline. Penn’s always been front and center.
What drew them to you?
I have had an intellectual relationship with some of the people there going back to John Dixon Hunt. I’ve written about Jim Corner’s work. Penn’s Press published my first book, called Room 4.1.3: Innovations in Landscape Architecture, which was a very risky book because it was so conceptual. I’ve done work that tracks the entire spectrum of what a landscape architect can do. I’ve done the smallest gardens that are all about meaning and allegory all the way to large scale planning. It’s always been about what is in this project that will critically make some contribution to the discipline. Of course, the short answer is that there’s not that many people around, either.
What do you hope to do with your new position as chair?
First thing is to consolidate Penn as the world’s best design school. In many ways it’s a legendary school. It has great alumni. But the school can’t rest on its laurels. We have to guarantee that the students coming out of Penn are going to be leaders and visionaries and critics. We’re not just filling up the offices, Penn’s about leadership, intellectual leadership. I’m interested in large-scale phenomena, things like population growth, climate change. (more…)