by Virginia Fall, Student ASLA
While the profession of landscape architecture is relatively old in practice, the contemporary network of professionals remains a small group of people with shared links in academic and professional lineages. In the same way that we value our understanding of ourselves relative to our biological heritage, it is equally as important to examine and identify our professional lineage, stemming from our beginnings in academia. This examination lends to reflection on how we, as students and practitioners, decidedly embrace or revoke the design thinking and practices of our predecessors and mentors.
During my time at North Carolina State University (NCSU), I often heard brief stories about faculty that collaborated with notable professionals, or of an individual that studied under particularly admirable instructors. As the number of stories and names grew, I realized that other people might benefit from making this information accessible, and I decided to document this information in a singular place. This project ultimately stems from a selfish endeavor to understand the extent of experience housed within our department, and to understand how my perspectives in landscape architecture are shaped through generations of education and practice.
When I initially mentioned this project to faculty, I emailed to ask them if they were willing to share and to identify their academic institutions with meaningful mentors from their academic and professional experiences. I had several faculty members enthusiastically respond, and some asked for a meeting to better understand the objective of the document. I tried not to put any parameters on what defines a mentor, and let their own interpretations shape the document. In the end, the graphic feels like a celebration of our faculty, recognizing the wealth of experience and exposure we have at NCSU.
What was most exciting for me was seeing some of my own instructors respond to say that they were not previously aware of another faculty member’s shared mentor. This is the kind of information that exists between the lines of a CV. Much of this information is readily available on university department websites, but the extent of their learning and the connections between faculty are not apparent until explicitly asked about their personal histories in Landscape Architecture. Merely by asking a few simple questions, I have been able to share these stories from my own mentors. I have learned so much about the nuances of my own academic experience and how my professors have contributed to my own understanding of the field.
While this document captures only a small facet of the profession, there is plenty of opportunity to grow this to extend beyond the bounds of the names listed here. Ideally, this project will eventually expand to include previous faculty since the start of the Landscape Architecture program at NCSU in 1948. Because of the readily apparent connections between academic institutions like Harvard Graduate School of Design and UC Berkeley, these seem like exciting and feasible additions to the Landscape Architecture mentor map to begin shaping a more comprehensive genealogy. The professional connections to Peter Walker pose an additional prompt for further exploration. A more lofty goal would be to include this information in a digital format, something as easily accessible and navigable as www.academictree.org.
If this is something that interests you, or is an undertaking that you have already pursued in some way, I encourage you to reach out and share that information. It is an exciting process to have a deeper understanding of our profession that links generations of faculty and practitioners beyond design firms and academic institutions.
Virginia Fall, Student ASLA, is a recent MLA graduate from NC State University in Raleigh, NC. She is currently relocating to Southern California to begin her career in landscape architecture.