2018 National Grant Competition for Emerging
Professionals in Landscape Architecture

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GRANT WINNER

Profile Lisa Biddle
LandDesign | McLean, VA
University of Georgia

Q&A

What made you become interested in Landscape Architecture?
I’ve always had a variety of interests - the environment, art, design, science, community outreach. When I learned there was a profession that combined so many things I love, it was an easy choice to explore this career path.

What one thing inspires you and your designs?
Systems-based thinking. Realizing that everything is connected and trying to understand those relationships and what makes them click is a continual source of thought and inspiration. For me, that understanding comes from observation and curiosity – whether visiting a park and seeing how people use the space, asking a community what their needs are, or reading about the history of a site – the deep understanding of a place, people and problem is the heart of good design.

What do you think is the biggest challenge Landscape Architects face today?
Our environment and society are changing at an unprecedented pace. Keeping up with the big monumental shifts that are occurring in technology, climate, policy and industry, then translating that information into meaningful design solutions is a challenge that landscape architects have always, and will continue to, face.

What is the most important lesson you have learned so far in your career?
I feel grateful to have a tangible and real physical outcome to show for my work as a landscape architect. One thing I’ve learned is that care and attention should be placed into every decision made, from the big ideas to the small details, because ultimately our work is not for us as the designer but for the people and nature that will inhabit and give life to that space.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Working to create meaningful spaces and exploring new possibilities.

WINNING ENTRY

Sketch
Click to enlarge
Describe a space that influenced your career in landscape architecture, which can help others relate to the profession.

Summary
Never underestimate the significance of the design of everyday spaces and how impressionable a view from a classroom window can be.

Description
Looking back, I had the typical nature-oriented childhood of a future landscape architect. I went camping and visited National Parks with my family. I built things with my grandfather and had a healthy dose of playing in streams and forests. All of these places and experiences shaped my future as a landscape architect, but one place sticks out as particularly influential, not for what it was, but for what it wasn't.

This place was the view from my 9th grade history class window. The view wasn't anything pretty, far from the surreal or sublime, just a courtyard of a 1960's two-story brick and cinderblock public school. The courtyard was framed with rectangular windows that had been painted over so many times they didn't open anymore. Not much grew in this courtyard outside of weeds, patches of lawn, and a lone oak tree. A single door provided access to the courtyard, but it was always locked, clearly signaling to us students that nature was not to be a part of our daily educational experience.

As I sat in class, attempting to focus on my teacher and the annals of world history, I would find myself gazing out the window upon this courtyard — staring at the faces of other students sitting in their classrooms, or at a squirrel that might be running up the tree, or at the peculiar patterns the dandelions, clover, and lawn formed. Mostly I remember thinking how sad this patch of green looked, how run-down this place was, and how I couldn't wait to get out of school.

The idea of transforming this ordinary courtyard into anything more never crossed my mind at the time. It took me another six years to discover landscape architecture as a profession and learn about the benefits of exposure to nature on learning. Imagine if, as a high school student, instead of a barren lawn I had instead looked upon a vegetable garden, a native meadow restoration, or an outdoor classroom where my fellow students were sitting outside sketching, learning about photosynthesis, or reading Thoreau? Maybe I would have met a landscape architect who came to help design, build, or steward this courtyard garden. Through them, maybe I would have learned about the profession earlier maybe my classmates too.

When I think back to that courtyard I see an ordinary, everyday landscape brimming with potential that was unrealized — a locked courtyard that could have been a place of community and learning. I see the possibility of thousands of students being exposed to natural systems and learning about the role landscape architects play in giving shape to those spaces and ideas. I am reminded that it is often the landscapes of the everyday, the routine, and the monotonous that can shape our well being, and just how impressionable a view from a window can be.

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