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Common Space: A Public Practice Series—Q&A with Terry Clements, FASLA

Terry Clements, FASLA

Terry Clements, FASLA, is a Professor and Program Chair of the Virginia Tech Landscape Architecture Program. The ASLA Virginia Chapter twice awarded Terry the President’s Award for Service before granting her the Award for Distinguished Service, their highest award. She also served as the national ASLA Vice President of Education.

This interview was conducted by Om Khurjekar, ASLA, Principal, Hord Coplan Macht.

Did you prefer public sector versus private work when you were starting your career; or did other events shape your career decisions?

I chose to start full time work at a landscape architect-led multi-disciplinary firm because I wanted to earn my license and the right to call myself a landscape architect as quickly as possible. After attending two landscape architecture programs as an undergrad over six years, I wanted to BE what I studied. I later switched to a design-build firm to gain a stronger handle on site design, construction, materials, and maintenance. When New England suffered an economic crash in the late 1990s, I used the opportunity to go back to school to retool and to build an expanded professional network on the west coast. While there, I realized that I could more effectively influence the built environment by inspiring students to create better places for people while respecting natural systems and diverse cultures. I entered academia as a licensed landscape architect with a foundational belief in the value of community engagement for community betterment. In academia, you often have to relocate to where you can get the job (there just aren’t that many universities that offer landscape architecture degrees). I was extremely lucky to land a position in a geography I love while reaching out to places I love to explore.

How did your education and training prepare you for what you do today?

As an undergraduate I changed schools to participate in a required education abroad program. That program, combined with travel opportunities I had pursued in 4-H during high school, fed my curiosity and desire to see other landscapes and how others live. I think my studies of cultural landscapes, the design and use of a variety of places and my need to learn how things work prepared me for teaching twenty-somethings. My formal education included a strong design and technical education and, importantly, a solid liberal arts and science foundation. I’ve worked to build on that by continuing to follow questions and learn more of the past (who doesn’t benefit from critically looking at history?) while contending with issues facing us today and into the future. As our world is rapidly expanding and evolving, we are challenged to quickly bring critical thinking and multiple perspectives to issues and tasks that could be reactionary rather than proactively and critically considering them within a framework that includes broader and the longer-term impacts and opportunities.

Can you share the notable challenges you have had through your career practicing as a landscape architect in the public sector?

I became an educator because of my belief that I could have a greater influence on the quality of the built environment through showing others the importance of quality places for people to live, work and play. But there’s a fundamental challenge in moving students from thinking about the immediacy of a course assignment to how it relates to their future. As a private practitioner I educated members of the public and public boards on the value of landscapes and well-designed places. As an educator in a public university, I educate future practitioners, administrators and other academics about the same things. Students who will make a difference for many. And others so that they can first become aware of their landscapes and then to become advocates for their public space needs. There’s also a challenge in being a landscape architect first, and secondly an academic. While the university values teaching, it puts incredible value in research productivity and publications. It’s a constant balancing effort to frame my work with students to include outcomes recognized as faculty success by a Research-One university.

Can you share the positive experiences you have had while working as a landscape architect in the public sector?

I have consistently used community engagement to teach students various ways to work with communities in response to requests that come into our Landscape Architecture Program. Each year the program organizes two or three design studio projects that help individual communities envision new futures for their shared property. It’s amazing how the students can generate excitement of possibilities that community members had not thought possible or even thought of. Our students’ work is often used by communities to obtain grants and other funding to move themselves forward. From the outside, these projects are often seen as rather small. However, the long-term impacts are amazing. A senior living campus now has a beautiful and safe place to walk outside. Another community has created a central gathering space around a new playground. Another is creating a nature center at a community park to bring new residents together with long-time residents. Well-practiced, landscape architecture can bring communities together in simple and amazingly powerful ways.

Is there one tip you wish to share with the next generation of landscape architects?

Be curious, ask questions, be involved. The world will get better because individuals seek to do better for themselves AND for others. 

Here is some background information about Clements:

Degree or degrees, and where and when earned:  

  • MLA University of California at Berkeley, 1993
  • BLA SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry 1985

Employment history:  

  • 2015 to present, Landscape Architecture Program Chair, Virginia Tech, College of Architecture & Urban Studies, in the School of Architecture + Design.
  • 2015, Promoted to Professor, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • 2005 – 2006, Interim Director, Master of Landscape Architecture Program at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center, Virginia Tech, Alexandria, VA
  • 1999 – 2015, Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • 1993 – 1999, Assistant Professor in Landscape Architecture, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA
  • 1992, Landscape Designer, Ralph Alexander and Associates, Mill Valley, CA
  • 1989 – 1990, Landscape Architect, Pellettieri Associates, Warner, NH
  • 1989, Instructor in Landscape Design, New Hampshire Vocational Technical Institute, Concord, NH
  • 1987 – 1989, Landscape Architect/Project Manager, Matarazzo Design, Inc., Concord, NH
  • 1985 – 1987, Landscape Designer/Project Manager, Matarazzo Design, Inc., Concord, NH

Number of years as an ASLA member:  

  • Student member between 1979 and 1985, again as a graduate student 1990 – 1993.
  • Student Representative to the ASLA Board of Trustees 1992/93.
  • Full member since 1993

Other affiliated professional organizations:  

  • CELA (Council of Educators of Landscape Architecture)
  • EDRA (Environmental Design Research Association

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