Former Landscape Architecture Professor and interim director of the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture Van Cox was the recipient of this year’s College of Art + Design Honor Award. The annual award is given to those who have had a substantial impact on the College.
Cox, who retired in May after teaching at LSU for 36 years, came to the University in 1967 to study Landscape Architecture as an undergraduate. He received his BLA in 1972 and went on to receive an MFA from LSU in 1979.
As a student, his most memorable experiences were the result of Professor (and founder of the School) Doc Reich who created a family atmosphere among faculty and students with regular ice cream socials and potluck suppers. Reich’s belief that students in the program needed travel as a part of their education not just in Landscape Architecture, but also in life, affected Cox deeply.
“Doc, who was from New York, had a philosophy that most who went through the program were from small towns and had never really traveled outside of Louisiana,” Cox said. And this was true of Cox himself. Two weeks before the beginning of school in1969, Cox and his classmates got a notice that there would be a field trip out west. The adventure involved three straight days of driving on a bus where they dined on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and made their first stop at Yosemite, where they got their first showers since leaving Louisiana. “Everybody griped about it until we saw how beautiful it was,” he said. “We all went out with crew cuts and came back with long hair.”
On this formative trip, students visited professional offices and Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and many saw the musical Hair. They visited the Grand Canyon, the desert in New Mexico and got to see designs done by LSU alumni out west. “The trip exposed us to things we would never have seen around here,” Cox said. “School travel introduced me to different cultures and designs, made my view broader and introduced me to people from around the world that I now know really well. It also offers landscape architecture students great job opportunities around the world.”
Cox not only enjoyed his years of teaching at LSU, but also gave back to the LSU community, including The Hilltop Arboretum, and the greater Baton Rouge community as well. During his interim directorship, the School attained top-ranking for the School’s BLA program and the 2nd-ranking for the MLA program from DesignIntelligence in consecutive years, and inaugurated the Max Z. Conrad Lecture Series whose contributions increased. In addition to this year’s “Honor Award” from the College, in 1996, he received an “Outstanding Teacher Award” (1996) and was twice named “Outstanding Faculty Member (1987; 2002); by students in the School. Cox was elected Trustee of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for six years (1990-1996) and was then elected by the national membership as vice president for education for the next three years.
Among the projects he enjoyed most was working with lead researcher, Associate Professor Michael Desmond, authoring and illustrating the chapter on the evolution of the LSU Campus Landscape and illustrations for inclusion in a Getty Foundation Grant report. This project became a book by Desmond, The Architecture of LSU, published this year by LSU Press.
Up next for Cox will be a trip on a riverboat from New Orleans to Memphis during which he will give lectures in St. Francisville, Natchez and Vicksburg. After that, he will do consulting while living in Baton Rouge. At his retirement reception, held at Hilltop Arboretum in May, Cox was surprised and delighted when it was announced that his wife, Jan, set up a student travel scholarship for the School in his name.
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