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Living landscape

In this Q-and-A, School of Architecture Dean Fritz Steiner chimes in on the role landscape architecture plays in the sustainability movement.

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Photo of Fritz Steiner

Fritz Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture. 

This Q-and-A originally appeared in Wildflower magazine.

Fritz Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture,  received his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in city and regional planning and a Master of Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania. He also received a Master of Community Planning and a Bachelor of Science in Design from the University of Cincinnati.  He has written “Human Ecology: Following Nature’s Lead” and “The Living Landscape” and has two forthcoming books “Design For A Vulnerable Plant,” and “Urban Ecological Design: A Process for Creating Regenerative Places” (with Danilo Palazzo).

What is the difference between a landscape designer and a landscape architect?
The word “landscape” refers to the visible features of an area of land or an expanse of scenery. To design a landscape is to work with physical elements such as color, form, scale and texture. A landscape architect works not only with the physical features of the land, but with more complex interactions such as natural processes, socio-economic analyses and cultural factors.

When did landscape architecture join the sustainability movement?
Arguably, landscape architecture represents a precursor to sustainability because it seeks to balance environmental, social and economic concerns. In recent years, there are two major forces that propelled landscape architecture into the realm of contemporary sustainability. The first was a greater engagement in urban areas. Lessons learned in national parks, forests, suburban and rural areas began to be applied to the urban landscape. Some of the best recent examples of this are the High Line Park in New York City and Millennium Park in Chicago. The second force has been the proliferation of landscape architecture programs in urban areas such as Virginia Tech, Illinois Institute of Technology, City College of New York, Washington University, USC, and ours in Austin.

What is the connection between landscape architects and community and regional planners?
Many of the leading CRP programs in the U.S. grew out of landscape architecture programs such as those at Harvard, Illinois and Berkeley. Landscape architects began to focus more directly on site, while planners addressed large-scale issues such as outcomes and policy. A good example of measuring outcomes is the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a collaboration among the Wildflower Center, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the U.S. Botanic Garden and our School of Architecture.

What are the unique strengths of the landscape architecture program at UT?
A distinct strength is our location. Both the City of Austin and the State of Texas provide us with wonderfully diverse cities and landscapes — great laboratories for our work. The recent addition of the Wildflower Center to UT’s holdings has allowed us to pair our leading faculty with outstanding research staff from the Center.