The focus of the Department is Urban Ecological Design, which integrates site, landscape, and people in a design practice that is functional, artful, and engaging. Urban Ecological Design is an emerging issue locally, nationally, and globally, distinctive from the foci of other Landscape Architecture programs. It fits well with our faculty strengths, as well as the context of our region. It serves what we believe to be the greatest needs within the profession at this time. We have made a long-term commitment to lead an interdisciplinary approach addressing Urban Ecological Design through our research, teaching, and studio projects in four key areas:
The science of ecology is still a relatively recent addition to the diverse set of approaches used in the study of cities. We focus on applying landscape ecology and conservation biology to the strategic design of urban infrastructure. We look for ways to structure and guide the flows of organisms, materials, and energy that pass through a city in ways that support the characteristic biodiversity of a region. This represents a fundamental change in the priorities for urban infrastructure, although it continues to encompass the early 20th century urban goals of enhancing the health, safety and welfare of humans. Working at multiple scales, ecological infrastructure incorporates stormwater drainage, street design, transportation networks and facilities, and park and greenway systems.
Culture plays a significant role in our perception, interpretation, and expression of place. Each place is the product of the interaction of a variety of social, cultural, political and economic forces in the environment. Culturally-based placemaking recognizes this reality and the importance of including the voices of individuals and communities in design decisions to represent the full diversity of our communities. Culturally-based placemaking is an intrinsically democratic approach to design that recognizes the value of all forms of diversity. We recognize the potential of powerful contemporary social, economic and technological forces to disconnect culture from place with the resulting sense of individual alienation and displacement. We seek to create design interventions that reconcile these factors, honoring past and present cultural relationships to place.
Design for Ecological Literacy
Ecological literacy encompasses connections with the environment, and which includes knowledge of natural and cultural systems, competency to proactively preserve, reveal and regenerate those systems, and stewardship values. We view design as a powerful process and means of developing ecological literacy. Such literacy is essential for all citizens, but children and youth are considered a particularly important group to address since their opportunities to develop ecological literacy through direct experiences of and access to the natural environment have been significantly impoverished. Design for ecological literacy may incorporate participatory design processes to build upon citizens' current knowledge, care and action in a particular landscape, as well as enrich designers' understandings. An emphasis is placed on how environmental processes can be enhanced and revealed through design forms, elements, and materials.
Human and Environmental Health Human and environmental health and well-being are inextricably related. Our focus on environmental design and planning investigates, practices and values effective strategies for preserving and advancing the health and well being of humans and ecosystems at all scales - local, regional and global - within the long tradition of landscape architecture. We collaborate with diverse communities from schools and neighborhoods to healthcare providers and patients to address these challenges through community planning, restorative design, environmental justice, and inquiries into the role of nature in therapeutic design. We work with public agencies and citizen groups to define policies and practices that would increase the sustainability of healthy communities. We value a synthesis of design and research within an interdisciplinary framework that engages the scholarship and practice of allied fields including environmental psychology, the natural sciences, public health, medicine, social work and nursing.