Posts tagged University of Washington

Photos by Jennifer Salazar

We’re well into the month of November, with “Back to School” a forgone conclusion. Nevertheless, I really wanted to share my own thoughts about the topic, looking back to a time before I became a professional landscape architect.

It was twenty years ago when I was an MLA student at the University of Washington (UW pronounced “you dub” for short). I was fortunate at UW to have numerous Landscape Architecture professors guide me through the rigors of learning analysis, design, and construction. Coming from a science background, I remember struggling early on with grasping the “design” aspect of the program. Professors John Koepke, Barbara Swift, and Sally Shauman, amongst others, worked with our class early in the program to teach us about landscape design. Each instructor provided us with various assignments to give us practice and confidence and I can draw a direct connection with the work I do today to two particular professors from this time as a landscape architecture student.

One important figure in my academic development  was Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA. Daniel joined the UW faculty mid-way through my studies, and he proved to be a challenging, yet caring teacher. An energetic, fast talking, direct man from New Jersey via Boston, Daniel  challenged students about construction and design techniques at every turn. He also led a neighborhood-scale master planning studio similar to the large scale open space planning projects AHBE is currently pursuing.

Always engaged and willing to share his knowledge, Daniel is still teaching at the University of Washington, and I always look forward to seeing him at the ASLA conventions, as I did a few weeks ago. Daniel continues leading design-build programs, taking students around the world to provide landscape design and construction services into environments where they’re most needed.

Another source of inspiration at UW – this time, representing the written word – was Iain Robertson, Associate Professor in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, College of the Environment. As someone who enjoyed writing and reading, Iain helped encourage the development of my non-fiction writing skills. Even today, I still remember when he pulled down an expired announcement from a nearby bulletin board to write several references on the backside of the sheet – recommendations that proved extremely valuable. I still have that list.

Iain was also responsible for introducing me to a wide range of non-fiction landscape authors – Michael Pollan, John McPhee and Dylan Thomas. These writers all became personal favorites, and I continue to revisit their writing again and again even after all these years.

I also continue to hold onto Iain’s handwritten critiques of my writing assignments, and also the writing workshop notes we received during his classes. I still find his lessons useful to refer to today while writing for AHBE LAB, and also while reading other contributors’ posts.

This lesson presentation (PDF) Iain designed a few years ago is an example of his ability to foster creativity in design education and other professions.

What was it that made these two personalities such memorable teachers? I think it was that both Daniel and Iain showed their students care and respect, alongside their commitment to offering honest critiques. In the long run, the combination would make us better landscape architects, with both instructors leaving an indelible mark that has continued to help me today as a landscape architect, manager, and writer twenty years later.  

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OrangeBloss_wbI once read an article where someone had said that landscape architecture could be the greatest of the art forms because it is capable of engaging all five of the human senses. I would add that landscape architecture can also evoke another powerful human sense – that of memory. I often hear stories from people about how the scent of a particular flower, the visual-tactile space created by a certain tree canopy, or the taste of a certain vegetable from the garden can powerfully transport them to another place or time.

During my first studio class in the MLA program at UW (University of Washington, Seattle), the first assignment I was given was to describe a personally meaningful landscape. Most students described a favorite backyard – a beloved parents’ or grandparents’ yard where they felt safe, where memories of made-up games with siblings or cousins and celebratory picnics with family happened. My description was of the deafening, terrifying edge of Niagara Falls in upstate New York.

I was born in the City of Niagara Falls and my family frequently traveled to the city when I was a young child to visit family and friends. We always visited the city’s namesake natural feature. The pathways and security railing allowed people to get close enough to the thunderous roar of the waterfall so that you could feel the ground vibrate as the enormous amount of water rushed over the falls, falling down almost 200 feet. I readily recall that powerful landscape experience. This memory connects me not only to that specific place, but also to other memories of extended  – and now dwindling –  family and history experiences of the area.

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As a landscape architect I strive to make meaningful places for entry, connection, rest, enjoyment, and recreation. My goal is to create places that are useful and beautiful, places that evoke memories too…hopefully sans the terror of a powerful waterfall.