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Designing with Thought

CSLD students prepare

Last week I was privileged to be invited by Paul Hellmund, Director, to the Conway School of Landscape Design for the presentations of term projects by this year’s class.  I was particularly interested in two of those projects: a feasibility study for the Davis Street School site and plans for a Botanical and Geological Garden at Greenfield Community College.

I have long been an admirer of the Conway School of Landscape Design with its emphasis on environmentally sound and sustainable principles and design, and its belief in learning by doing. This means that each semester of this ten month accredited Master’s program is devoted to a project carried out by teams of two or three.

The projects given to the students are real projects. Municipalities, non-profit organizations and homeowners can contact the school with an idea for a project, whether it is landscaping for a house or a Master Plan for a campground or street.  If chosen, those projects, residential in the fall, and municipal or organizational in the spring, are given to the students to form the vehicle for the curriculum.

Those who propose a project to the school know that they will get more than suggestions by an untested and inexperienced novice. Many of the students bring various educational, professional and life experiences with them when they begin, Then, from the start with client interviews, site visits for assessment and analysis, understanding of client goals and desired outcomes, Conway students work with skilled faculty who teach and guide, helping them find solutions to each site and design problem.

While clients may have or state a single goal, the educational process requires that each team come up with three options, based on that goal, for each site. At the end of each term the students present their projects to judges who critique the project and the presentation. Walt Cudnohufsky who founded the school in 1972 believes strongly in the necessity for students to be able to clearly articulate their plans orally, and in writing, as well through drawings.

The buzz at the school was electric when I arrived last Friday as students were putting up their drawings, and greeting guests which included clients for their projects. If I was excited to see the presentations I can only imagine how the students felt.

The range of projects was fascinating, with very different challenges. One team had to come up with a Master Plan for the Tully Lake Campground in Royalston administered by the Trustees of Reservations, and another was a Master Plan for Marble Street in West Rutland, Vermont.

I was particularly interested in the Davis Street School Administration Property Feasibility Study because that two acre site, about a five minute walk from Main Street, includes the ten year old community garden with its 36 plots – and a waiting list.

This is not the place to go through the three options that Josiah Simpson and Annie Cox presented, but from my own perspective I will say that if I were choosing I would work with the option that included retaining the community gardens, and landscaping the rest of the lot as a park. The truth is that the community, drawn by the gardens, already use the land as a park, walking dogs, and visiting.

Cox and Simpson were told that Greenfield already has sufficient housing so the old school building should not be renovated to that purpose. For myself, I think the cost of renovating that building for any use, as historic as it might be, is prohibitive. What the town does not have is a sufficiency of green space for public use.

Kate Snyder (R) and Gareth Crosby (center)

As a former member of the Greenfield Community College staff I was also very interested in the plans put forth by Gareth Crosby and Kate Snyder for a Botanical and Geological Garden behind the building.  Professor Emeritus  Richard Little has already arranged geological specimens from the Pioneer Valley in this space which include a greenhouse but the goal was to organize the space to provide adequate sun for a net-zero greenhouse, teaching space, and water/drainage management on the sloping site.

I liked all three of the options that Snyder and Crosby presented, but if I were the client I might very well want to combine elements from each. I was told this is what many clients do.  It then became clear that a presentation to a client is not the end of a project, but probably a mid-point, as the client reacts, not only approval, but with questions and concerns.

We all got to see all nine presentations, and hear the judges comments, but the clients will meet privately with their team for discussion.

The client will take possession of the project.  I know that Heath asked the Conway School for a plan for the town center including a park next to the Community Hall. I remember a large drawing hung in the Town Hall for a while, for comments.

I could not find that drawing or report, but I did track down a mention of it in the 1992 Annual Report. I will keep looking.

It’s hard to think that after so many long days, so many meetings, and so much hard work to provide multiple solutions, a project report may ultimately be lost in some dusty file and forgotten.

Maybe that’s just another lesson in reality for the students.

Conway School of Landscape Design

5 comments to Designing with Thought

  • Great blog! This brings back memories – I am a landscape designer and have just seen the exhibition from my old college – Oxford College of Garden Design. I know how much work goes into these things. Exciting stuff.!

    http://www.elspeth.tumblr.com

  • Pat

    Elspeth, Lots of work and an exiting end to an intense year.

  • Wow. You are no “common weeder,” I’ll be back!

  • This sounds like an excellent hands-on learning experience for the students. And what a wonderful service to the community! It’s too bad, though, if the clients don’t follow through with implementing the plans. As you say, though, this is part of reality.

  • Pat

    Cheryl – I’ll be watching for you.
    Rose – I think many plans do reach fruition, but when you are dealing with a municipal (in some sense) plan a lot has to happen bureaucratically before things are done. Not to mention agreeing to municipal money.

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