I’ve been a landscape architect and planner for 33 years, working in both the private and public sectors. When I was a young graduate student in landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, Professor Harry Porter gave each of us a “nickname” that described us. I was “The Student.” It is likely that my moniker was given to me as a tribute of my zeal for learning. Today, as most of my contemporaries are now in early stages of retirement, I am now back in school, pursuing my doctorate to look at ways to bridge the chasm between research and design.
In 1999, I began designing with special needs populations, realizing how little we, as designers, actually communicate with these clients. Instead of designing for people, there is a greater need to learn about our clients’ perspectives and experiences – to design with them guiding us. At this time, I also began teaching in landscape architecture and horticultural programs at Temple University, University of Delaware, Philadelphia University, and Longwood Gardens. My courses emphasized the practical qualities of communicating the design process from program to contract drawings and the built environment. I had, however, little experience with research. It wasn’t until my family and I were on vacation in the Adirondacks, that I observed my young son acting differently in a variety of natural environments. On the long drive home, I put together the outline for what would become the first of many studies of children in the physical environment.
To learn research methodology, I entered the doctoral program in Environmental Psychology at City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and the incredible faculty: David Chapin (my adviser), Joan Greenbaum, Roger Hart, Cindi Katz, Setha Low, Wendy Luttrell, Susan Saegert and Gary Winkel. I use research methods in my current design practice -- learning about how places are (or should be) used by asking the people who use them. In addition to using current academic research to inform my clients and their design programs, I also employ research methods such as interviews, surveys, focus groups and participatory approaches. In post-occupancy evaluations of built environments, I look for the characteristics of places that encourage engagement with users, to help build a collection of best design practice examples.
It was through CUNY students and faculty that I first learned about EDRA. At EDRA40/2009: Ethical Design of Places in Kansas City, MO, I presented my doctoral research regarding autistic youth and their favorite places. This was an exciting experience where faculty, fellow students and professionals would stop to talk and discuss ideas, experiences and offers for further collaborations. I regularly “meet” with these colleagues on Skype to discuss our progress on research or to give each other feedback. I am especially excited to see how other EDRA representatives, such as Danny Mittleman and Marwa Abdelmonem, have attracted visitors to EDRA via social media. EDRA is now a daily occurrence in my life instead of just once a year!