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American Society of Landscape Architects


March 2007 Issue

Ten Months, One Quantum Leap
After more than three decades, one of the country’s smallest graduate schools is still standing—and standing up for sustainable landscape design and planning.

By Jane Roy Brown

Ten Months, One Quantum Leap Bill Regan

“A cemetery is the perfect place to study geology, because three kinds of rock are used in monuments,” says Richard Little, striding among old marble and slate gravestones to a spot where upright granite monuments mark the newest section of this graveyard in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. Sixteen men and women pause to scratch in notebooks as Little, a geologist and guest lecturer, stops to point out examples of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary stones.

For the members of the Conway School of Landscape Design class of 2007, this is the second day of school and the first of a nine-day road trip through the Connecticut River Watershed. Many of the students—10 women and 6 men, aged mid-20s to mid-50s—haven’t drawn since elementary school. Until a week ago they were pursuing careers in disparate fields—software engineering, kayaking instruction, and jewelry design, to name a few. Today they are tagging along with Little to decipher the processes, from volcanoes to glaciers, that shaped the local landscape.

The outing began in the classroom. Director Paul Cawood Hellmund, ASLA, told the students that throughout the road-trip outings they would be using sketchbooks to record the natural patterns and processes they observed along the way. “As designers, you’ll be intervening in these patterns,” he said.

After humorous exchanges earlier in the morning, the students grow serious. Intervening in the patterns and processes of nature is not something they take lightly.

Like the medical school injunction, “First, do no harm,” the Conway School reminds students that what they do as designers affects a landscape that supports a complex living system.

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