Willa Caughey ’14
Landscape Architecture, Uno Uniqa Group in Køge, Denmark
Landscape Architecture at Uno Uniqa Group in Køge, Denmark
(After Conway, I went on to get a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.)
What were you doing before you applied to the Conway School?
MassLIFT AmeriCorps member at Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust.
What brought you to Conway?
While I was considering landscape architecture schools, a network of passionate alumnae and friends of the school helped me see that Conway, with its focus on ecology and systems, was the education I sought.
What are you doing right now, and what do you love about it?
I currently work as a landscape architect designing playgrounds, schoolyards, and fitness areas in Denmark. I love designing spaces for users with specific needs! Designing for children is especially motivating, knowing the impact that the built environment can have on childhood development, education, and building strong social ties.
List one or more books that you find influential in the field of ecological design and/or planning.
Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces by Clare Cooper Marcus & Naomi A. Sachs – includes abundant research on why and how ‘nature’ and cultivated green areas promote wellness.
Planting: A New Perspective by Piet Oudolf & Noel Kingsbury is not only full of inspiring examples of Piet Oudolf’s landscapes through the seasons, but more practically helped me understand how one conceptualizes and draws such a detailed and diverse planting plan.
More about Willa, from a piece that originally appeared in the 2017 edition of con’text magazine:
Conway Meets Copenhagen
by Willa Caughey ’14, MLA
Walking out of the examination room after presenting my master’s thesis in September 2016, I was greeted by a warm cohort of friends popping champagne and placing plant trophies in my hands. That day was full of celebration, giving way to a period of reflection and gratitude—for my time at the University of Copenhagen, where I received a master of landscape architecture, and for the path that led me there.
I went to Conway to follow a passion, to pursue the education I wished I could find in a conventional landscape architecture program. I knew I would, in all likelihood, continue on to pursue an MLA, but I wanted the Conway experience to inform what followed. A confluence of factors led me to study in Denmark.
My first studio revealed an alarming clash between my professor’s abstract treatment of projects, and Conway’s commitment to analysis-based, real-world design solutions. I found myself struggling to communicate effectively and to figure out how the design identity I forged at Conway fit in here. Only when I had to explain to my confused classmates what a watershed was, did I begin to understand more tangibly the value of the Conway degree. I worked to integrate the best from each of my rich design educations, and this ultimately led me to evidence-based health design.
Evidence-based health design uses the best available research, along with institutional and user-based knowledge, to design for maximum health benefits and quality of life for users. In my thesis, I merge health design with ecological design. My thesis, The Phoenix Garden,
presents a vision for an evidence-based therapeutic garden for incarcerated youth in San Mateo County, California. Designed for a largely Latino, socioeconomically disadvantaged population with a disproportionate share of psychiatric disorders, the garden uses naturalistic
spaces to address psychiatric conditions and learning differences and restores valuable habitat.
To a Conway School graduate in relentless pursuit of the so what? an evidence-based approach may sound obvious. But in the field of landscape architecture, where poetic language and sun-drenched visualizations can be a substitute for substance, it has profound implications. Incorporating qualitative and quantitative evidence from a defined group of users—be they individuals with dementia or those in need of physical activity and stress reduction—increases the ability for landscapes to support and enhance the health and well-being of our population, and elevates the field of landscape design.