Campus News - February 12, 2001
Building Landscape Architecture for the 21st Century
By Carolyn Gonzales
and Planning Professor Baker Morrow thought it would take only a couple years
to establish a masters in landscape architecture (MLA) program at UNM.
It would take a while longer. Much like designing a cityscape, the program first
required a vision, infrastructure, a few well-planted seeds and people to tend
them. Morrow was the visionary who planted the seeds, the programs new
director, Alfred Simon, now nurtures the program along.
Morrow started his teaching career at UNM in 1975 and by 1977 the seeds of
the landscape architecture program first sprang up in the form of undergraduate
coursework in the field. For a decade, the School of Architecture and Planning
offered specializations within planning, including an intensive program in landscape
In 1994 then-Dean Richard Uribes gave the charge and was absolutely relentless
in pursuit of this program, recalls Morrow who gained the support of the
architecture and planning faculty by telling them he would look for money without
stripping existing programs.
Two strokes of luck nurtured the program. David Stuart, director of Evening
and Weekend degree programs, supported the program, providing necessary funding
and classes. And when J.B. Jackson the cultural and landscape historian
died, he left the school $3 million in his will. We were successful in
persuading administration that the money should be used to set up an endowment
with the interest used to support a new landscape architecture program,
Morrow says, adding that the current dean, Roger Schluntz, as well as his predecessor,
interim Dean Ric Richardson, were also supportive.
The Form D bearing signatures of deans and administrators, Faculty Senate,
the Commission on Higher Education and the Governor is the document that
makes a degree program official. For each of the 16 signatures on the
document, I think we made three presentations, says Morrow, who now displays
the framed Form D like a badge of honor on his office wall.
Gov. Johnson made the case for the program. He defended and promoted
the training we could provide. He said that we could train and use the expertise
in low water, high desert areas and also export the expertise, says Morrow.
I would not want to go through that process more than once in a lifetime,
Morrow was happy to turn the program over to its first director, Alf Simon.
Although Simon comes to UNM by way of Manitoba, Canada, he has had a long love
affair, as he says, with the Southwest. He lived in Tempe, Az., for a
year and a half and is a frequent visitor to the Sonora and California deserts.
The opportunity to build a program is rare. Few get the chance to construct
a program based on pedagogy and ideology. This is an incredible opportunity
for me, says Simon, adding that landscape architecture is not well understood
as a discipline outside the profession.
Its not just about trees and flowers and decorating space,
he says. In a city there is more space between buildings than there are
buildings. Who designs that space? People dont see it. The work of architects
is well known and understood, but people dont understand that landscape
architects are the ones who design and place streets, sidewalks, parking lots.
And parking lots arent just utilitarian. They can be created as pedestrian
space, says Simon.
The masters in landscape architecture requires 50 to 60 hours of graduate
level work, matching the requirements for other specialized graduate degrees
in the school. Who is best suited for the program? As with art history,
the best students for the program are those with strong liberal arts backgrounds,
not necessarily those who came out of an architecture or planning undergraduate
program, says Morrow. He stresses that landscape architects must be well
grounded in what is socially useful.
Judgments must be made. What is more important a park or a street?
Do we demolish 19th century homes for an office building? People whose backgrounds
are in history, politics, language and culture can help make sound, well informed
decisions, says Morrow.
Simon shares this philosophy. Students can come into landscape architecture
from sociology, psychology, geology, anthropology and have the necessary knowledge
about the social, economic and cultural world. In a diverse, pluralistic society,
one needs to understand the values, communities, cities, subtleties and issues
and synthesize it, he says.
That foundation helps the students appreciate living space in large and small
ways. Our environment reinforces our values and needs, functioning in
a natural, delightful way. The sky is our ceiling, the ground our floor. We
understand the relationship between the sky and the earth. We understand the
natural systems above, on and below ground. Human and natural systems can be
elegantly integrated, he says.
Landscape architects look to meet peoples needs for function, but work
to create places of delight, says Simon, who says that they assess
how people use and move through urban environments and how the landscape supports
the people through layout, streetscapes and infrastructure.
Simon sees the need to work with natural systems and the environment. We
cover up a lot in the environment. Systems that control use a lot and waste
a lot of energy. We are responsive to natural systems to develop win/win situations,
Landscape architects make judgments about resources, as well. How much water will a site need to make it flourish? If you cut down on the grass, then you introduce more gravel and stone. Locally those materials are quarried in hills between Albuquerque and Santa Fe that are now diminishing. Everything has a cause and effect. How will future generations feel about what we do? asks Morrow.
As with any new program, the MLA is resource poor, says Simon, who adds that
Dean Schluntz is supportive. Although Simon is the only fulltime faculty member
in landscape architecture, others from Architecture and Planning teach part
time in his department. He adds, We work together with both architecture
and planning. That overlap is critical. We cant function effectively in
We are restructuring the curriculum for students coming in as non-design
majors, he says, explaining that those students are placed in a three-year
program with the design studio pulling all the pieces together. In the
studio, they build skills and experiment. Design majors can do it in two years.
We are working to develop a program that is as competitive academically
as any program anywhere. We want to attract students nationally and internationally,
says Simon, who adds that they expect the program to be accredited by 2003.
Simon indicates that the program already has strength in cultural landscape studies; environmental/sustainable landscapes, especially as it applies regionally; and in its emerging program in the landscapes of Latin America.
Simon sees the planned new building for the school as an opportunity to collaborate even more with his colleagues. The Antoine Predock design supports the spirit of interdisciplinary studies. Shared classroom and seminar rooms will support all three programs in equal ways, he says.
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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