GSD Appoints Anita Berrizbeitia to New Role

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This article is part of the GSD’s series profiling leadership within the School and beyond. Stay tuned for an interview with Diane Davis, Chair of the Urban Planning and Design department, in October. 

Earlier this summer, Dean Mohsen Mostafavi announced the appointment of Anita Berrizbeitia FAAR, MLA ’87 as Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Since 2009, she has taught at the GSD as Professor of Landscape Architecture and served as Director of the Master of Landscape Architecture Degree Programs—now headed by Bradley Cantrell MLA ’03, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture. Holding the unique distinction of being the second female Chair of the department since Linda Jewell in the 1980s, Berrizbeitia assumed her new role on July 1, 2015 following Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture, who stepped down after six years.

As Chair, Berrizbeitia plans to move forward some of the ideas and directions that were set forth in the past few years, such as ecology and urbanization, while adding new breadth and dimensions to the School’s pedagogy and research. Her vision includes continuing to advance the qualitative aspects of design beyond instrumentality, a longstanding interest of hers. Berrizbeitia states, “It is critical that we keep moving on other fronts as well, such as design expression, a re-engagement with material culture, and an emphasis on the making of projects. Each of these must now necessarily be placed in a broader context to address questions of public space, social justice, and urban realm.” Another aspect of her vision is expanding critical engagement with technology. “While technology is fully integrated into pedagogy and design, there isn’t yet enough of a critical distance from it. I believe we need to distinguish between a landscape architectural response to technology, and say, an engineering response to technology because we have a much broader set of agendas than they do. How do we transcend technology through design to avoid a simplistic positivism?” Finally, Berrizbeitia wants to re-establish an emphasis on the social vocation of landscape architecture during her tenure—a sensibility she acknowledges is clearly embedded in the writings of the founders of the field, but one which she believes needs to be renewed as central to the practice of landscape architects today.

This is a great moment in the history of the GSD and of our field. I want everyone to partake of this moment.
-Anita Berrizbeitia MLA ’87, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture

While she’s keenly aware of the legacy of her predecessors—all of whom focused on specific interests, developing specific lines of inquiry during their term as Chairs—Berrizbeitia sees her role as one that will maintain breadth, rather than shift to a new specialization. As a landscape architect who practiced before entering academia, she feels comfortable in both worlds, and her time living abroad in South America and Europe, has given her a worldly disposition and perspective. She hopes to recover and embrace the scope of the field as a necessary position and sensibility to foster new and hybrid conditions of landscape. “If we embrace this as a point of departure, we encourage experimentation and critical thinking in the curriculum, but without the need for a specialization that comes at the expense of other dimensions of landscape,” says Berrizbeitia. In addition, she would like to expand the opportunities and connections between creative practice, design research, and scholarship. “This is a fortuitous moment at the GSD to explore this triad. It will lead to synthetic answers that are the fruitful mix of research, discovery, and imagination.”

Over the last five years, the GSD has seen rapid growth in the number of students, faculty, new courses, and enhancements of the curriculum. Currently, Berrizbeitia is reviewing the state of the Landscape Architecture department, as the School’s expansion process is waning; taking an audit of what and how they are teaching in an effort to, “build efficiency into our offerings to advance and refine pedagogy in a way that both delivers core knowledge and yet leaves room for speculation and exploration.” Berrizbeitia has a set of goals she hopes to accomplish within the department under her leadership. Pedagogically, she would like to see even stronger design produced in studios. “By this I mean an emphasis on design as a key mandate  for transformative change. I want to see students act on their research, not stop at the descriptive project. Acting on research entails a very different type of commitment to exploratory thinking, a leap of imagination and creativity that, while grounded on research, nevertheless offers so much more than a reassertion of those forces that are at work on a particular place.” She also plans to work closely with faculty, students, School leadership, and the University to “expand the role that landscape architecture can attain in addressing and speculating about challenges that press on us at this time. Given the multidisciplinary nature of the field, at the intersection of science, art, politics, economics, and urbanism, this seems an especially favorable moment to do so.” Additionally, she not only sees the School’s surrounding local communities—Cambridge, Boston, and adjacent towns–as examples of many different types of urban conditions that need reflection, offering great moments for learning and collaboration, but further afield, she is eyeing opportunities to expand seminars and studios internationally, especially in Latin America. Finally, she would like to engage alumni and involve them in advancing the initiatives of the School. “This is a great moment in the history of the GSD and of our field. I want everyone to partake of this moment,” comments Berrizbeitia.

Her overall vision and goals now outlined, Berrizbeitia takes the time to reflect on the students who will leave the GSD as the next generation of landscape architects. When asked what fundamental values she wishes students will take with them as they leave the School during her tenure as Chair, Berrizbeitia reflects, “A commitment to the public realm and to inclusion. Passion for a fantastic field for all it can do to elevate the lives of people, and move society to a greater sense of well-being. The number of issues that can be addressed today through landscape is continuously expanding. This, in and of itself, is tremendously exciting. The opportunities are numerous and significant.”

This article is part of the GSD Leadership series, which also includes:

Faculty Focus: Diane Davis

New Leadership of the GSD’s Alumni Community