To talk about my life as a landscape architect, I am very appreciative of what landscape architecture has offered to me as a person, and it is certainly something
that is very much a part of my identity. I think first of myself as a professional, as a landscape architect. I think probably it’s good, but it’s also somewhat worrying that I do have a lot invested personally in this profession, and sometimes maybe it’s overtaken some other parts of my life. But to elaborate a bit on my life, I’m right now a faculty member in the School of Landscape Architecture at the University of Guelph. I’ve been here, it will be 28
years in a few months, and so that’s a long time. I have a lot of memories here and a lot invested here. It’s been a wonderful experience to be here, as I think of it as one of my careers because, before I came to the University of Guelph, I worked 16 years in Ottawa; I had my own practice for the last 10 years, and the time before that I was working for some of the firms in the Ottawa area. And before that I worked in Chicago for two years when I first started my career, I worked for a multidisciplinary planning and engineering and landscape architecture company. So I’ve had both private sector experience and academic experi ence. When I was in Ottawa, for a short time I worked for the National Captial Commission so I feel like I’ve had a little taste of public sector work as well. But it’s been very rich as far as the experiences that I’ve had and the people that I’ve gotten to work with, the clients I’ve gotten to work with, and all of the landscapes that I’ve gotten to experience. The Landscape Architecture Foundation is an opportunity for landscape architects in Canada to develop a legacy for the profession. That’s what we’ve worked toward in the last 30 years; it’s now 30 years old. The focus of the foundation is to put our efforts into research, communication and scholarship that benefits not only landscape architecture, but what we call
the ideals of landscape architecture. So we’re not really trying to support the profession as we are to support what it is we believe in as landscape architects. So through the Landscape Architecture Foundation we collect money largely from members of the professional associations and we distribute that money to students through the form of scholarships and to individuals who apply for our grants and want to do something that they think will benefit the profession or will allow them to grow as a professional. We also support the communication of the research that we do. So for instance, Landscapes Paysages, the national magazine of the CSLA was supported
originally through the foundation. We donated money year after year to provide support so that we could get the magazine on its feet and on a stable base, and it is now, and we’re really proud of that effort that we gave early on for that important tool for the profession. Since then, we’ve given many, many scholarships. We have an endowment now, and we are able to then expand what we do through the foundation. It’s something that’s been very close to me because I’ve been involved with it and have served on the board since its inception. The design challenges, I would say, started with having people understand what it is we are capable of as landscape architects. So we would be often
part of a team and having the team understand that… or develop awareness that landscape architects could do more than the assumptions that many people had. So that was a challenge in trying to do our work that we had often been hired to do, or to be able to be part of the team in a really meaningful way beyond working after other professionals had had their input, then asking us, as we often times say to just contribute at the end point as opposed to the beginning. And it was even more severe at that time than it is today, I think. Other challenges were, well, I would say, there were some challenges for me as a female. Not so much with my co-workers and not so much with landscape architects, but sometimes with the other consultants that I was working with, and sometimes with clients, I would say especially after I started my own company. When I was working for other people, I was not seen as a female, I was seen as somebody on the staff of a firm. But when I started my own business, then I was a competitor, and it seemed to change the perception of me, and it seemed to change the perception of what people thought I was capable of. This became very true when I won the competition, the open competition for Sparks Street Mall. We outcompeted eight other firms, international firms, national firms, all architecture firms, to get that project. After that I was seen as real competition.
I actually don’t think it was so much then that I was a female, it was just that… it was more that I was a landscape architect and a female. So suddenly, the people that used to hire me to work with them, the architects and engineers that hired me to work with them, saw me as somebody that was competing against them. So that was a challenge in that particular period in time and for that particular project. I think the turning point, as I see it, was the passage of our Name Act and the admission of hundreds of new members, of doubling our membership from 300 to over 600. I served on council at that time, and I served with Macklin Hancock, I served with Rick Moore as president, Ed Fife as president, so those were really
interesting years. We had a great council. I served with Jim Taylor, who was the university appointee from Guelph, and in fact, that’s how Jim Taylor and I became husband and wife, was by meeting on the OALA council, during the long meetings that we had… each of the candidates that were applying for membership, and we actually said yes or no on each of those candidates. So that was a lot of work, but it was really an interesting time, also because then at the end of that we could see the potential of what the OALA was going to become with that breadth of people that came in; some of them came in without degrees, but they had been practicing, and they
brought new abilities into the profession. A number of them ended up dropping out later on because they realized that the association was not really going to be something that was going to maybe benefit them in the long run as they had expected it would. But it was an exciting time to be there. I can mention also that a turning point in my mind was hiring Arthur Timms as the Executive Director of the OALA. He was our first professional Executive Director. He came with a lot of experience in that role in other associations. He turned the association into a truly professional organization and was very good at
representing us outside of our membership, and just spoke so well, and was really committed to what we did as professionals. So I always feel that that was turning point for us as well. Climate change is something that we obviously need to be aware of. I think landscape architects have always dealt with the issues that are coming about because of climate change. We’ve been dealing with storm water management as part of our profession since its inception, when you think back to Olmsted’s early work in Boston, it was about how to manage storm water and overflows. So that has been part of what we do as professionals for many years. So I don’t think it’s really anything new. It’s obviously though the pace at which
climate change is happening. So what we can do as a profession, I think the research that some of my colleagues are doing here in the School of Landscape Architecture and across Canada and elsewhere around the world – landscape architecture research that will benefit the profession that will help us understand better how to design green roofs, whether green roofs are effective, or how to make them more effective, I should say. Also the impact of shade on individuals. We had a lot of research done here on, microclimate and how shade can influence people’s comfort and also would be tying that in many cases to the health of individuals, because the health professionals are becoming interested in how landscape is designed and how communities are designed, and I think we’ll see stronger ties with health professionals in the future. I think students are obviously interested in this.
I think we need to become more aware as private practitioners. I think the schools and the research that we do at schools can help in that respect. I think a lot of us think that as long as we’re planting native plants, that we’ve addressed climate change, or as long as we know how to design retention basins, we’ll be able to help in that respect. But I think we need to do more, we need tounderstand if those native trees really are going to be effective when the climate has changed, 40 years from now. We need to be able to develop models, know which models to rely on, to be able to develop the palettes of plants that we want to be able to work with as professionals. So that’s just one example, but I think there are similar examples in other dimensions. I think storm water and plants are two of the things that always
come to my mind in that respect. What I love about landscape architecture is that you have two living systems that you’re trying to meld. You have the living system of the earth and all the life that it supports, and then you have the people and the animals, but I think in my career I’ve dealt more with the people, partly because I’m here in the School of Landscape Architecture, and my experience as a professional, a lot of my work has been in heritage conservation, which deals with understanding how people used the landscape in the past, so I’ve looked at people and landscape. So putting those two systems together, human systems and landscape systems together, I have found the diversity that comes out of that has been really so pleasurable, it’s really what has excited me about being a professional, about being a landscape architect. I also will say that I’m highly motivated by the students that I have taught the last almost three decades. Seeing a constant stream of new faces and new ideas that students bring and the new challenges that they bring to education, and keeping me aware of what is happening and what I need to know, and how I interact with students, I think that has been extremely motivating. This may be a repetition of things that I’ve talked about previously in this interview, but I want to emphasize the fact that I have gotten so much enjoyment from being a landscape architect. I used to say “I’ve never met a landscape architect I didn’t like”. I think I can still say that for the most part. There are people that I’ve had tussles with, but
I still very much like them as individuals. I don’t think there are a lot of people that can say that around the world, and I think, in general. I have enjoyed working with landscape architects, I’ve enjoyed helping to inspire students, teach students so that they could become landscape architects, and I’m really, really pleased when I see them moving into practice and becoming very successful, that is always a huge enjoyment for me as an individual. I also want to say how much I’ve enjoy traveling the world, because I have traveled almost all continents, everywhere but Antarctica, and a lot of that has been to attend professional meetings and always it involves seeing the landscapes that are part of my destination. I’ve often had the opportunity to see those landscape architects with people from another part of the world and having them take me around and show me what is new and important and developing in their country or what the issues are that they’re dealing with in that country. So I’ve been very immersed in this profession, but I must say, it’s all been extremely enjoyable, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had