What kind of questions or curiosities did you have when you decided to pursue a degree in landscape architecture?
I’ve always had a passion for art and craft, and also for ecology and environmental issues. I worked as a vegetable farmer after college, and we were working with agricultural extension to help redesign our production fields to minimize erosion while still maintaining efficiency. At the same time, I met someone who designed moss terrariums and was considering going into landscape architecture- it all came together to pique my curiosity and make me think that the field might encompass many of my interests and passions. Cornell’s grounding in ecology and plant sciences made it feel like a great fit for me when I visited, and that proved to be true!
How would you characterize your professional practice in the field?
After graduating from Cornell with my MLA, I worked at Mahan Rykiel Associates, a firm in Baltimore, MD, for three years. I got experience with a diverse portfolio of projects, including institutional landscapes (especially educational campuses), mixed-use and retail, and some ecological design/research projects as well. Once I got licensed (and had my daughter), I started my own practice focusing on nature play, ecological restoration, and research. Most of my clients are nonprofits, and I do some work as a sub-consultant for other firms as well.
Your current research includes 'working landscapes'. Can you expand on what those typologies are and what methodologies you are developing in your investigation of these landscapes?
A type of project that I began while at my former firm, that I have continued on my own, is developing community-science-based toolkits to help stakeholders assess the ecological health of their land, and the success of their projects. For example, I worked with an urban farm/outdoor education center in Baltimore to establish a data collection methodology that will enable them (the managers, as well as local Master Naturalists) to track their ecological restoration efforts over time. We were able to fund the first year of data collection, done by me with community partners, through a grant. Finding and developing research-backed data collection methods that are robust enough to use community scientists and keep costs low, but can still inform the design process and maintenance regime is really exciting- for example, we used a community science methodology developed by the Xerces Society to compare the number and diversity of pollinators in adjacent lawn and meadow areas to establish whether the pollinator habitat was successful, while also pointing to seasonal gaps in floral resources, something that can be addressed by additional planting and helps me inform future meadow planting design.
What kinds of professional and personal trajectories are you setting for yourself at the moment?
In addition to ecological research-based projects, I am lucky to do a good amount of playspace and nature play design. I hope to combine my interest in research and data-driven design with my playspace design practice and find ways to iteratively improve playspaces, especially nature play spaces which are often designed to facilitate more open-ended creative play than traditional playgrounds. I’ve also recently begun to dabble in some coding and would like to try to continue to integrate that into my practice, as a design aid (like web app I recently published, “SeedCount”) and as a way of interpreting and displaying data.