Could you give a little background information about yourself?
I’m a professor of landscape horticulture and design and I teach courses within that field. I have an interest in a lot of different things: plants, the built environment, the process of design, urban spaces, and place-making that’s inclusive for lots of different types of people.
Fall 2015 was my second semester at UD. I started in January of that year. This has been somewhat of a career change for me, as I have been a practicing landscape architect for the last 10 years. I was most recently working for the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, with a focus on urban public parks, and worked on many collaborative projects with the Philadelphia Water Department and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. I have a strong interest in urban design and community engagement.
What made you make the transition to academia?
I have always been interested in teaching. When I was in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, I also completed a certificate program through the Sheridan Center at Brown University in teaching at the university level. I always envisioned myself taking that path as a long term career goal. While I was practicing as a landscape architect, I taught a couple of courses at Temple University as well as taught one-off courses at Morris Arboretum and through a local herb school up in Philadelphia. I was interested in moving into a full time faculty position, in order to more effectively explore all my interests instead of just being pigeonholed into being behind a computer all day and doing design work. I get a great deal of enjoyment and stimulation from engaging with students and people who are just getting exposed to these ideas for the first time.
What kind of classes do you teach?
I teach a lot of classes as my appointment at UD is primarily teaching. I teach computer-aided design (CAD) for site design, which is a course that covers AutoCAD, Photoshop, and other programs useful for representing design, from concept through construction documents. This course is geared towards landscape designers as well as civil engineers; basically anyone who is going to be using the computer to create plans for the built environment. I also teach history of landscape design where we cover landscapes from pre-history up to the present. That’s a really fun survey course and that fulfills breadth requirements. In addition, I teach bidding and estimating, herbaceous plants and construction materials. I also teach an advanced urban design studio in the spring.
What do you like most about landscape design?
I love that it’s a generalist field: you get to learn a lot about a lot of different things! I never get bored. As you can probably discern, based on the range of courses that I teach, there’s lots of different parts of the world of landscape design to explore: historic precedents and theory, how things are actually put together, how to represent ideas, and ultimately how to look at spaces in new ways. I also love that it’s a very collaborative field, in that you get to work with a lot of different practitioners and other disciplines.
What made you come to UD?
I actually grew up in Old New Castle, so my folks are not far away and I am familiar with the area. I was particularly interested in coming to UD because this is a landscape design program that’s housed within a plant and soil sciences department, rather than in an architecture department. I earned my degree at a place where the landscape architecture department was within the school of architecture and that lead to a lot of wonderful theoretical ideas and understandings of the interface of buildings and the environment. The fact that this is a plant and soil science department means that this program’s curriculum is filled with a lot of practical knowledge, and develops a hands on understanding of how things actually grow and how plants can actually be used as a design material. This department and CANR overall also provide this awesome opportunity to interface with really innovative researchers and scientists in new developments and discoveries that are happening with plants and other natural resources. It’s really an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of how we can use plants as a tool in design for big issues.
What have been your impressions of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences?
It’s been a really great first few semesters. People have been really encouraging and welcoming and helped me with questions that I’ve had in getting adjusted to a lifestyle of academia. I love that it’s a supportive department where there’s a lot of people that have young families, which is important to me. I just hope to see more collaboration within the department as my time goes along.
Favorite part of your time here?
Seeing my students really grasp a concept or get excited about a new idea is the thing that makes me the most pleased and feel like I really made the right choice in making this transition.
Why do you feel that landscape design is important?
We are all continuously interacting with our environment and if we don’t have beautifully designed and functional spaces to interact with, then there is the potential to lose out on the recognition of natural processes. In addition to visiting local gardens, which are clearly designed, I take my history of landscape design students on a walk around campus and point out that UD is a designed space. It is amazing to me that people often don’t realize that they’re in designed spaces all the time, every day, as they are walking around. Every place can be made better by conscientious design decisions. Landscape design also has the ability to address major issues that we’re facing at this time such as climate change, sea level rise, and urban food deserts, as well to make life more equitable for everyone. Everyone can enjoy being in a space, it’s not reserved for the elite.
Any interesting hobbies outside of work?
I really enjoy hiking in the woods with my family and our three dogs. We like to identify birds and wildflowers. I am better at recognizing flowers than birds, but still enjoy it! I garden, and grow and use herbs in cooking and as natural medicine. I also have a Permaculture Design Certificate, and love to read about permaculture practices, especially food forests and plant guilds.
Article by Adam Thomas