Carol Franklin RLA, FASLA, co-founder of Andropogon Associates of Philadelphia, was awarded an honorary degree at Conway’s fortieth commencement.
Prepared text from Ms. Franklin’s commencement talk, “The Subversive Designer,” follows.
You are here because you are graduating: welcome to the “subversive” landscape design community. What makes you part of this community, is that every project that you will do from now on, will be enriched with the new thinking you have gained at Conway.
Let us remind ourselves of the old way of thinking.
- The fence is the edge
- I will give Mr. Brown the cement rose garden that he wants
- The buildings are more important than the landscape
- My design will make me famous
Now, as we know, everything is interwoven—which changes the way we see and the way we work. I propose to take you on a journey, through an invented project, to deconstruct the reality of how you can never go back to the old ways. Let’s go to the site:
A small college has been constructed on the top of a geological anomaly that sticks up in a flat, floodplain and is surrounded by a forested river valley that happens to be a major city park. “Student-Life” currently occurs in an immense asphalt parking lot and enrollment is down. The College is making big plans for the future, and they have asked you to design a Master Plan, which will accommodate, among other things, 1887 new bedrooms and nineteen more classrooms, not to mention three new soccer fields.
It makes your job far more difficult, but Conway has taught you that beyond the client who pays your bills, your actual, primary clients are the larger natural world and the local human community. The College president thinks that the boundaries of College property are the boundaries of the project. What you know now, is that these boundaries expand into the stream valley and into the public park, and to the village a mile away on an even higher hill.
For you planning and design tools, at every site, there are many stories. As designers, you will discover the stories that can solve real problems, satisfy the clients and organize the project. For a landscape designer these stories describe what the site once was, what it is now, and what it could be. The first story is about how the site evolved—it’s history. Part of the history is how, in the 1960’s, the College filled in the wetlands and straightened the river channel.
Then, you will have to explore what the site is now, what are the big issues. For instance, student cars parked in lot # 3 are routinely swept away into the creek during heavy storms.
Then as designers, you can finally create the story of what the site will be—the story that resolves the difficulties and realizes the possibilities. You might suggest that the main parking lot become a garage, under the new Student-Life facility. To squeeze the most out of a tight site, every element must do many different jobs. You suggest that this new structure be built into the slope, so that the building becomes a staircase to the river. The building can then replace a 50-foot stone wall that currently holds up the hill. If the flattened area on the ridge, which is also the entrance to the main College buildings, now given over to a service road, could be liberated by providing service through the garage, this landscape could become a student plaza, at the heart of the campus.
We won’t go into what happens when several unhappy neighbors file a lawsuit. But something unexpected and incomprehensible will happen at almost every job, so keep in mind that re-planning is an organic part of the process. At every job there will be roadblocks—from Mr. Brown’s nostalgic feelings for the 50-foot wall, to your blunders with the contractor, or your sudden failure of imagination. You will have to be flexible, while remaining faithful to the requirements of your primary clients—the larger natural world and the local human community.
In the end, the best possible outcome is that arriving at a successful project has become an organic process in which, you will have learned from the site and your client, and they will have learned from you. This is how you will create the future—where commencement means beginning.