Bringing Landscape Architecture Professionals into the Classroom
Bridging the gap between theory and practice and offering real-world perspectives on what it means to be a working landscape architect is what Lisa DuRussel and Alexa Bush sought to provide students in their Metropolitan Design Dynamics Studio.
"For me it's always about rooting the coursework and the projects that I give to students in some kind of reality," said DuRussel, an assistant professor of practice in the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program at the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). "Whenever I can collaborate with other professionals, whether from organizations or other universities, it just makes sense to incorporate that real-world experience into the studio setting as much as I can."
DuRussel (BS '02, MLA '06) wanted to bring Bush into the classroom given her experience with revitalizing and developing Detroit neighborhoods. Bush is the Urban Design Director of the East Region in the City of Detroit Planning Department, where she manages a team responsible for planning and implementing neighborhood development and landscape infrastructure projects that are co-created with the community.
"My experience brought another perspective to students as someone who is working on a number of projects in practice," said Bush, who co-taught the Metro Design Studio with DuRussel in the fall semester. "I think the day-to-day work in the field is a complimentary experience to the academic and research realm. In a professional degree like the MLA, that blend of experience benefits students who can think broadly in the academic sphere, but also have access to the applied work of landscape architects, navigating the constraints, challenges, and opportunities of how to bring a big design idea to fruition as a built project."
DuRussel said she and Bush had a productive collaboration. The two shared similar insights about design pedagogy and practice, as well as lessons from the field they wanted to impart to MLA students. In addition to understanding the design process, those lessons included working with clients, engaging with the public, and providing examples about how landscape architects lead and work in diverse teams of designers, engineers, general contractors, and other disciplines, according to Bush.
Because DuRussel and Bush worked so well together, their collaboration benefited the students, which third-year MLA student Yanling Mo appreciated. "They helped to solidly structure our design process and achieve design goals, while providing suggestions on how to physically build those spatial ideas," Mo said. "One idea or method Lisa and Alexa emphasized a lot was using the prototyping approach. It is widely used in other design fields but may not be used consciously in the landscape design field. Through the Metro Studio, I realized that this approach can be usefully applied at different stages of a project, providing validation of both overall design concepts and specific design elements."
The MLA program at SEAS has been engaging with real-world professionals in the classroom for years, according to Stan Jones, associate professor of landscape architecture. In addition to Bush—who co-taught another studio class with SEAS Assistant Professor Mark Lindquist during the winter semester—other practicing landscape architects who teach at SEAS include:
- Neal Billetdeaux (BS '82, MLA '87), Lindsay Fercho (BS '08, MLA '12), Oliver Kiley (BS '03, MLA '08), Tom Mroz (MLA/MBA '86), and Lori Singleton, from SmithGroup;
- Chet Hill (MLA '89) and Mark Robinson, from JohnsonHill Land Ethics;
- Paul Kissinger, FASLA (BS '86), from EDSA/Kissinger Design
- Jennifer Lawson (MLA '09), from the City of Ann Arbor; and
- Amanda Szot (MLA '01), from Design Workshop.