Martha Schwartz is a landscape architect, urbanist, artist and climate activist. Her work and teaching focuses on the urban public realm landscape and its importance in making cities “climate ready”. As founder and Senior Partner of Martha Schwartz Partners, she completed projects around the globe, from site-specific art installations to public spaces, parks, and projects that focus on working with cities at strategic planning levels. Martha Schwartz is a tenured Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and is a participant of the GSD Climate Change Working Group. Schwartz foresees landscape architecture as the leading profession to face the challenge of Climate Change. At Landscape Architecture Foundation’s “New Landscape Declaration” summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future in 2016, Martha’s “Declaration” was one of the key proponents of the industry’s current position that Climate Change is a central issue to the practice. She is a founding member of the Working Group of Sustainable Cities at the Harvard University Center for the Environment, a founding member of the Landscape Architecture Foundation ‘s “Working Group on Climate Change”, and has recently founded Mayday.Earth, a non-profit organization focused on educating non-scientists and generalists about geoengineering and global-scale solutions which can be integrated into practice, thus expanding the role of landscape architecture.
Martha Schwartz is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce for her outstanding contribution to UK design; the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award; the Women in Design Award for Excellence from the Boston Society of Architects; an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Ulster in Belfast, Ireland; a fellowship from the Urban Design Institute; visiting residencies at Radcliffe College and the American Academy in Rome; an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects; Council of Fellows Award by the American Society of Landscape Architects and most recently a Doctor Honoris Causa from the Boston Architectural College. Her work has been featured widely in publications as well as museums, including the Chicago Institute of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She is presently a guest professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, School of Design and is the chair of the jury for the Obel Award in Architecture.
André Le Nôtre
Parc de Sceaux. More than 40 years ago, when I was just starting to focus on landscape architecture as a medium for my art, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to visit France. It was on this trip that I chanced upon Parc de Sceaux – what I consider to be one of the finest works of Le Notre, truly a master in spatial design. For the first time, I understood how powerful SPACE could be. It took my breath away. I hadn’t before considered that you could make such clear, strong and beautiful spaces out of nature – using plants as constructive elements. Suddenly architecture felt so small; I perceived buildings to be small elements set into and defined by this much larger canvas. That epiphany set me on the design trajectory that’s informed my work throughout my career – and I continue to be inspired today.
Winslow Farm Conservancy
This is a large-scale agricultural project that was designed as a marriage between art and the practicalities of reclamation and ecology. The 600 acre (243 hectare) McNeil property is an estate located within the New Jersey pine barrens; it contains a diverse range of landscape conditions including dense forests, gradually rolling topography and a 75 acre (30 hectare) abandoned clay quarry that holds mineral-rich turquoise water and served as the community dump. The objective for this project was to reclaim the spoiled and polluted acreage of the clay quarry so that it could once again serve as a habitat for local flora and fauna, to create open fields for organic agriculture, to serve as a retreat for artists who are interested in site-specific, landscape-scaled artworks, and lastly, as a training grounds for McNeil’s champion Labrador field dogs. The working process was richly collaborative, on site and hands-on, working between the client, contractors, ecologists and the MSP design team. Initially, the task was to remove pine trees so to create fields for organic farming. Spaces were carved into the site by calculated, selective clearing. Next, the site was graded to enhance the rolling landscape and create juxtapositions with sculpted forms. Soils were amended by mixing the harvested wood that had been chipped so to incorporate organic matter and to aerate the sterile clay. This mixture would eventually support plant life. The aesthetics were derived to combine the landscapes of nature, agriculture and culture into a unique mix of these three typologies. Elements of the natural landscape were used in conjunction with formal garden language to create work that posed a dialogue between the undisturbed landscape and more formalized gardens. Paths and roads have been carefully composed and sited so to create vistas and to pique one’s curiosity and desire to explore. Agricultural sheds and storage buildings have been transformed into gallery spaces and meeting rooms with attendant gardens.
The composition results in an intriguing combination of unlikely uses and spaces: agricultural fields of organically grown crops are designed as a large scaled garden. Clipped topiary elements run across these agricultural fields conflating the image of farms with a latter-day baroque garden. The reclaimed quarry is shaped in unlikely surreal forms while wildlife once again inhabits this landscape built for art installations and training hunting dogs. In the end, this site has provided a new life for a once degraded area. Given that there are thousands of such sites in New Jersey, this site has provided a template for cultural and ecological regeneration for others to follow.
This 25 foot by 35 foot rooftop garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts is part of an adventuresome art collection assembled by Director David Baltimore for the Whitehead Institute, a microbiology research center. The site was a lifeless rooftop courtyard atop a nine-story office building designed by Boston architects Goody Clancy Associates. Its dreary, tiled roof surface and high surrounding walls conspired to create a dark, inhospitable space, overlooked by both a classroom and a faculty lounge. The lounge offered access to the courtyard, making it a potential place to eat lunch. Along with its spatial woes, the floor of the courtyard was constructed with a concrete decking system that could not hold additional weight. There was also no source of water for the rooftop, no maintenance staff, and a low budget, precluding the possibility of introducing living plants.
However, it was entirely possible to convey a sense of a planted garden by providing enough signals for the site to read as a garden. There are many examples of other cultures that create garden abstractions. For example, in Japanese gardens, symbolic landscapes often imply a
larger landscape. This was the strategy at Whitehead – to create a garden through abstraction, symbolism, and reference. Schwartz wanted the narrative of the garden to relate to the work carried out by the Institute. The garden became a cautionary tale about the dangers inherent in gene splicing: the possibility of creating a monster. This garden is a monster, the joining together like Siamese twins of gardens from different cultures. One side is based on a French Renaissance garden; the other on a Japanese Zen garden. The elements that compose these gardens have been distorted. The rocks typically found in a Zen garden are composed of topiary pompoms from the French garden. Other plants, such as palms and conifers, are in strange and unfamiliar associations. Some plants project off the vertical surface of the wall; others teeter precariously on the wall’s top edge.
All the plants in the garden are plastic. The clipped hedges, which double as seating, are rolled steel covered in Astroturf. The green colors, which are the strongest cues that this is a garden, are composed of colored gravel and paint. The intent was to create for the scientists who occupy this building a visual puzzle that could not be solved. The garden is an ode to “better living through chemistry.”