New to LSU: Q&A with Robyn Reed

Assistant professor of landscape architecture Robyn Reed is a designer, educator, and advocate for the practice of landscape architecture. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Robyn is a licensed landscape architect who joins the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture after nearly twenty years in practice. Her research interests have emerged from her years in practice and focus on methods for better equipping cities and planners to integrate water into the urban fabric in more quotidian ways. Her work touches on material strategies as well as landscape theory to develop language and methods for cities to more proactively address climate change.

Q: What drew you to the field of landscape architecture?

A: I moved to Chicago in my early twenties. Chicago was the first city that made me aware of the beauty of architecture and inspired me to pursue graduate school in architecture and urban design. But in researching schools and thinking more about what I understood then architecture to be, I realized that I was much more interested in the spaces between buildings than I was in the buildings themselves. I wanted to help shape the places that belonged to the public. Around the same time I read Michael Pollan’s Second Nature in which he positions gardening as an act that bridges the nature/culture divide, an idea that really captured my attention as well. Landscape architecture seemed to speak to all my interests. And still does!

Q: What is your professional background?

A: I am a licensed landscape architect and have worked in practice for nearly twenty years. I have been very fortunate to work with some great designers and teams on projects ranging in scale from backyards in San Francisco to parks and plazas in Boston to new communities in Abu Dhabi. My favorite projects are usually the ones with the steepest learning curves. The Southworks/Lakeside Community Master Plan in Chicago remains one of the projects that influenced my thinking the most as it taught me the power of collaboration with civil engineers in developing water-receiving landscapes. The MIT Officer Collier Memorial in Cambridge was the most technically complicated and perhaps most gratifying given that we were all working towards honoring a fallen officer. And most recently, the Field House project in Rhode Island marked the beginning of working on my own. Hearing the song birds in the meadow there is really gratifying.

Q: What are your research interests?

A: I am interested in making cities more porous, in how we learn (or re-learn) to live with water. Some of this involves questioning contemporary materials and researching pavements in water-based cities. Some of this also involves questioning theoretical and pedagogical practices that have emphasized big moves rather than incremental ones. Coming from practice I see a tension in the big solutions thinking and the pragmatics of built work.

Q: What courses are you teaching?

A: I am teaching the second year graduate Water Studio, which challenges students to question approaches to water, and see how it has shaped us as much as we shape it. The course embraces the dynamic relationship of water to ground, and students develop a design vocabulary for water.

The first year graduate drawing course I teach, Landscape Representation i: Seeing by Hand, focuses on hand-drawn 2d representation. Students are introduced to a range of drawing methods and tools that will serve as a platform for studio work, digital media, and other aspects of design both here at LSU and in practice.

Q: Why do you enjoy teaching?

A: I enjoy working with students to help them learn how to bring their own experiences and knowledge to bear on their work. I have always been more interested in helping students cultivate their own voices and strengths than in having them develop a particular aesthetic.

Q: What was your first impression of LSU?

A: The live oak trees here are incredible, and what sold me on coming here. They remind me a bit of the coastal live oaks from where I grew up in Northern California and help make this new place feel a bit more like home.