Sophia Geller MLA ’17 lived and worked at the Château de Courances, a 16th-century domaine located in the Ile-de-France region of France working in its farm, forest, and park. Paola Sturla MLA ’11 considered how technology influences the way we design through her travels in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Geller and Sturla shared their experiences at a celebration of the Pete Walker and Partners Fellowship, which was created by a generous gift from Pete Walker MLA ’57 and his firm PWP Landscape Architects. The Fellowship offers recipients the rare opportunity to travel anywhere and in a time frame that works with their careers and artistic inquiry. Established in 2004 and awarded annually by the Landscape Architecture faculty to a graduating student for accomplishment in landscape design, the Fellowship has become one of the most prestigious awards in the Department and the School.
Pete was the recipient of the Jacob Weidenmann Prize when he graduated from the GSD, and he credits the travel made possible by this prize as essential to his development as a designer. Over his five-decade career, Pete Walker has been influential on the field of landscape architecture. The range of his projects is expansive—from the design of small gardens to the planning of cities, with a particular emphasis on corporate headquarters, plazas, cultural gardens, academic campuses, and urban-regeneration projects. In 1983, he formed Pete Walker and Partners, now known as PWP Landscape Architecture. At the GSD, Walker served as Chairman of the Landscape Architecture Department and the Acting Director of the Urban Design Program.
While Pete was at the GSD for option studio final review, Geller and Sturla and other recipients of the Pete Walker Fellowship gathered with Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture Anita Berrizbeitia MLA ’87, GSD faculty, and other distinguished guests at the Harvard University Faculty Club to celebrate this unique award.
Sophia Geller is a 2017 graduate of the GSD’s MLA program; through her hands-on research, she gained an intimate understanding of the Château de Courances and furthered her understanding of the landscape architect’s role in historical sites with the desire to evolve. What drew her to Courances is its unique standing as a privately-owned historic site that is actively engaged in experimentation with sustainable farming and land management techniques. Her presentation “Devant le Chateau” translates to in front of or, before the chateau, a term inspired by a map Geller found in an old laundry house in the maintenance yard. This phrase became a mantra of sorts as she set out to gain an intimate understanding of the areas surrounding the chateau. Through the four seasons, she familiarized herself with the ways each of Courances’ landscapes is designed, used, managed, and maintained.
She shared the following sentiment as part of her presentation to Pete Walker and guests: “The Pete Walker and Partners Fellowship gave me the chance to live and work directly in the landscape I was studying. Never would I have developed such a deep and layered knowledge of place without the time and direct engagement that the fellowship afforded me, something all too often lost in standard landscape architecture pedagogy. These experiences, and the relationships and skills I have developed are fundamentally shaping my definition of what a landscape architect can and should do, just as I hope they will for many others to follow.”
Other GSD students now have the opportunity to follow her in footsteps at Courances. As part of her time as the Pete Walker and Partners Fellow, she developed the GSD-Courances Design Residency program, which allows for two MLA students each summer to be exposed to new modes of thought, discourse, and engagement on such topics as sustainable land management, agriculture, conservation, stories of place, and the role of historic sites in contemporary society.
Paola Sturla is the 2011 recipient of the Pete Walker and Partners Fellowship and has returned to the GSD as the 2018-2019 Daniel Urban Kiley Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Landscape Architecture. At the GSD, she teaches courses on artificial intelligence and landscape core, as well as serves as the Content Curator for the exhibition “Mountains and the Rise of Landscape” in the GSD’s Druker Design Gallery. She is a registered Architetto and Paesaggista in Italy and a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning, Design, and Policy at Politecnico di Milano. For Sturla, the Fellowship uniquely enabled her to frame her viewpoint on infrastructure and its grounding. Her presentation “Grounding the Flows: Exploring the Aesthetics of Infrastructure” considered her travels in China, Spain, Italy, Norway, Denmark, and Qatar by looking at the question: how does technology influence the way we design? “I kept questioning what I was experiencing, asking myself what’s the agency of technology in designing such spaces,” she said. The Fellowship inspired her to begin her Ph.D., which investigates infrastructure, technology, artificial intelligence, and landscape.
Sturla is thankful for the Fellowship and its influence on her professional path. When reflecting on the Fellowship, she commented: “Thank you, Pete Walker, for this Fellowship, which has had an incredible impact on my career and my identity as a designer. It has been about having the strength, sense of appreciation, and self-esteem to keep framing my viewpoint on the world and the impact of our actions as humans and designers working at the intersection between the measurable and the experiential.”
The legacy of Pete Walker will endure through environments that he has built and enhanced, and through the example and opportunity that Pete Walker and Partners provides for the next generation of landscape architects via the Fellowship. For more information on the Pete Walker and Partners Fellowship for Landscape Architecture, please visit the webpage.
The full list of Pete Walker and Partners Fellows
1. Rachel Laszlo Tait MLA ’06
2. Jason Shinoda MLA ’07
3. Elizabeth Woodruff Randall MLA ’08
4. Mary Lydecker MLA ’09
5. Emily Bonifaci MLA ’10
6. Paola Sturla MLA ’11
7. Emily Schlickman MLA ’12
8. Anne Weber MLA ’13
9. Hope Strode MLA ’14
10. Michelle Franco MLA ’15
11. Foad Vahidi MLA ’16
12. Sophia Geller MLA ’17
13. Sonny Xu MArch ’18, MLA ’18