Congratulations, Class of 2022, and thank you to our distinguished guest critics!
Each fall, students are assigned individual ecological design projects selected from property owners in nearby communities who have contacted the school requesting site design and planning services. Although the focus is on a small area, the projects are never simple. Students are expected to learn and use a basic knowledge of geology, climate, soils, hydrology, topography, botany, wildlife, and other natural sciences, as well as skills in surveying, site engineering, construction, planning, and conservation. They follow a rigorous process of site analysis and assessment to develop design alternatives and recommendations shaped by that information.
On November 19 and 20, the students presented conceptual designs for their sites to an (online) audience of clients and guest critics, as well as friends and family, prospective students, and alums of the school. Although we missed having everyone together in person, the online format provided an opportunity for guests from as far away as Australia and Nigeria to attend. (And one alum let us know that the usual buzz of in-person presentations managed to come through: “I still got some of the same vibes, excitement, and energy that comes at an in-person presentation.”)
The students’ design concepts, grounded in the process of site analysis, strive to fit the particular needs of the clients to the specific ecology of the site and uphold the school’s mission. Students presented works in progress: these are preliminary designs hand-drawn on trace paper. We intentionally schedule the presentations to take place with four weeks left in the term, so that they can incorporate the valuable feedback they receive into the final plan sets for their clients.
This fall, residential projects students are working on are located in Northampton, Williamsburg, Easthampton, Southampton, South Deerfield, Whately, Amherst, Huntington, Plainfield, and Leyden. Properties range from less than 1/4-acre in size to over 100 acres. From forested uplands to farmland valleys, rural sites at stream headwaters to dense urban neighborhoods, projects present the class with a diversity of site conditions and design challenges. Non-residential projects include designs for All Saints’ Episcopal Church in South Hadley, Bramble Hill Farm in Amherst, Belding Memorial Library in Ashfield, Zoar Outdoor Adventures in Charlemont, and Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield.
Our distinguished guest critics included Hank Art, Todd Lynch ’05, and Emily Wright on the first day of presentations; and Rachel Loeffler, Judy Preston, and Nelle Ward ’14 on the second day. All provided insightful, thoughtful feedback that will help the students as they continue to work on their projects in the final few weeks of the term.
At the close of each day, a wrap-up discussion provided an opportunity for the students, critics, faculty, and staff to reflect on the presentations as a whole. Judy Preston, one of our Saturday critics, shared:
It’s such a treat for me to participate and join you because I’m so consistently encouraged by Conway students. The breadth of the questions that you’re asking and the creativity that you’re bringing to solutions is so encouraging. … Conway graduates incredible people who go out and try to address the very difficult – and increasingly difficult – challenges of the planet, and I’m glad to know that you’re there.
Nelle Ward (also a critic for the Saturday presentations) told the students:
At the Conway school you really get a wonderful understanding of landscape typologies and ecological processes and patterns, and it’s super, super important and it’s often forgotten in landscape architecture. … [Conway] has been the essential core knowledge base of my perspective on landscape architecture. The only reason I’m a landscape architect is because I felt like it was the most effective way to exercise my Conway skills.
The students expressed gratitude for the critics’ feedback and the support of their fellow classmates. One students said:
I’m appreciating how much we’ve been collaborating with each other already. I know these are our ‘individual’ semesters, but what I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is folks working really closely together to think of ideas and bounce things off of each other, and we’ve organized sessions to review each others’ work unprompted. I think that speaks to how much we’ve gotten to know each other and respect each other, and that means a lot to me. And I think that that really came through in the amount of times I heard folks thanking others for their ideas and mentioning how things came up in collaboration. So that was a lovely and kind of unexpected element, I think, to this project as well.
Another student added:
Thank you all critics for your incredible feedback. After everybody’s presentations, the first thing people have said is, ‘Oh, I’m so glad this is over,’ and then, ‘Also, I’m so excited about the feedback that we got. It’s so helpful, and I can’t wait to take all those comments and move forward … I’m so glad I have another month to work!’ … Also thank you for making us feel welcomed into this community and this kind of greater team of people who make up the ecological design field. It’s a pretty exciting place to be.
Thank you all for an inspiring day!
Save the date for winter presentations: Friday, February 25, 2022
Guest critics, Friday presentations:
Henry Warren Art formerly was Director of the Center for Environmental Studies and the Environmental Studies Program and is Rosenburg Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology, Emeritus, at Williams College. He has taught courses in environmental studies, field botany, ecology and land use planning through the biology department and the environmental studies program at Williams. Recently he has been serving as the Chair of the Board of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership and as the Interim Executive Director of the Williamstown (MA) Rural Lands Foundation. His research includes long-term ecological studies of the Hopkins Memorial Forest. Innovative use of images has been key to both his teaching and research. He served as a Conway School Trustee for many years.
BA, Dartmouth College
PhD, Yale University
Todd Lynch (Conway class of 2005) has a degree in medieval garden literature and studio art from Bowdoin College and completed the post-baccalaureate program in painting and environmental art at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore. He holds a Masters in Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a Masters in Ecological Planning and Design from the Conway School of Landscape Design. Todd is certified in Health Care Garden Design and Community Herbalism and as a forest and nature therapy guide. He has served on the board of United Plant Savers, a national organization devoted to the conservation of rare, native medicinal plants, and was an active member of the Williamsburg, Massachusetts Conservation Commission for twelve years. Todd has collaborated on health, landscape restoration, and art installations across the US. He lives in Western Massachusetts. He has twice won state recognition for excellence in science and art-based education programs for schools and has received multiple Massachusetts Cultural Council grants for environmental art installation and education. Todd has also lectured at universities, garden organizations and apothecaries about medicinal plants in the landscape and in addition to the Conway School has served as a design critic at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He blogs about the intersections of landscape, wellness and art on Instagram @ecotropy. Visit www.ecotropy.net to learn more.
MLA, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
MALD, The Conway School
BA, Bowdoin College
Emily Wright, RLA, is a founding principal at Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects. Over the past ten years, she has developed an expertise in site design and project management, overseeing a range of institutional and public projects across New England, with a focus on campus master planning, stormwater management, and ADA access. Through her work she strives to bring together in the landscape equitable access and climate resilience. She is a licensed landscape architect and a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has been honored for design excellence by the American Society of Landscape Architects. (Photo via Wright Ostermier Landscape Architects)
MLA, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
BSLA, University of Kentucky
Guest critics, Saturday presentations:
Rachel Loeffler, RLA, ASLA, is a principal at Berkshire Design Group in Northampton. She has over 21 years of experience in design, planning, and construction. Her practice began with Hargreaves Associates in Cambridge, MA, where she worked on brownfield remediation, waterfront parks, public parks, campuses, and rooftop gardens. Some of her signature projects included the Children’s Hospital project in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Long Bridge Park in Arlington, Virginia; Richmond Riverfront’s Masterplan; and the London 2012 Olympics. Rachel is particularly excited about a few projects on the boards today—such as applying Deafspace design principles to a campus master plan for the PA School for the Deaf in Philadelphia, and the recent Learning Landscape associated with the Center School in Greenfield, MA.
MLA, Harvard Graduate School of Design
BA, Washington University
Nelle Ward (Conway class of 2014), RLA, is a licensed Landscape Architect at Offshoots, Inc. in Boston, MA. Their career as a Landscape Architect began in the mountains of Costa Rica, where they discovered regenerative design working at a permaculture educational center. Having discovered their passion, Nellie pursued their Master of Science in Ecological Design from the Conway School. Nellie was awarded full-time Teaching Assistantship positions at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, enabling them to pursue a Master of Landscape Architecture. Nellie’s intensive focus on sustainable design and green stormwater infrastructure throughout their studies brought them to Philadelphia, a green urbanism hotspot. Nellie worked at several types of firms ranging from large interdisciplinary engineering firms to small private practices, where their duties ranged from community engagement facilitation to construction administration for primarily public projects. After five years in Philadelphia, Nellie’s passion and background in ecosystem service-based planning and design brought them to Offshoots in Boston, a firm which prioritizes phytotechnologies as a basis for design. Nellie is a Registered Landscape Architect in Pennsylvania, and they are currently applying for licensure reciprocity in Massachusetts. (Photo via Offshoots, Inc.)
MSED, The Conway School
MLA, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Judy Preston has been working in the environmental field doing community-based conservation and consulting in Connecticut for over twenty-five years. For the past twelve years she has been the public engagement and education Coordinator for the Long Island Sound Study (a National Estuary Program) through the University of Connecticut Sea Grant office in Groton, CT. Through a partnership with the UConn Master Gardener program, she runs an Advanced Master Gardener Coastal Certificate program designed to teach sustainable gardening practices focused on reducing nitrogen inputs to the Sound. Judy has worked in the for-profit sector as a geologist, as Director of Science and Stewardship for the Nature Conservancy in Connecticut, and as founder and Director of Tidewater Institute, a community-based conservation organization in the Connecticut River estuary region. She taught environmental science and landscape ecology as an adjunct faculty member at Three Rivers Community College for eight years. Judy is passionate about the natural world, gardening, and gunk-holing in the Connecticut River estuary.
MEM Environmental Management, Yale University
MS Botany Field Naturalist Program, University of Vermont
BA Geology, Skidmore College