Greening Diplomatic Grounds

Nine U.S. landscape architecture students will spend the first two weeks of August studying the grounds surrounding the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva and drafting a sustainable landscape design that can be phased in over five years. The students will work alongside three Swiss landscape architecture students, and under the guidance of three American landscape architecture educators, to deliver a comprehensive, sustainable landscape design that improves the landscape’s performance while also demonstrating American expertise.

This unique collaborative design project is jointly sponsored by the U.S. Mission and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). More than 130 complete applications were received by ASLA and screened to select a team with the widest breadth of skills, talents, and experience. In addition, Craig Verzone, an American landscape architect based in Switzerland, worked with the Mission to identify three Swiss students to be part of the team and to share Swiss expertise in this area.

The American students are:

  • David Bramer, University of Washington
  • Colleen Gilfrich, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Michael Lindquist, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jennifer Obee, Ohio State University
  • Kirsten Ostberg, University of Virginia
  • Natalie Ross, University of Minnesota
  • Damon Sanchez, Iowa State University
  • Michael Scholtz, State University of New York at Syracuse
  • Katherine Tooke, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The American faculty members guiding the design team are:

  • Terry Clements, ASLA, Associate Professor, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Richard Hawks, FASLA, Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, and ASLA Vice President, Communications
  • Tim Toland, ASLA, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse

Joining them are three Swiss students from Geneva’s School of Landscape Design, Engineering and Architecture (HEPIA- Haute École du Paysage, d’Ingénierie et d’Architecture).

  • Marion Crozetière
  • Samuel Enjolras
  • Raphaël Papiou 

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva represents the United States at the United Nations and other international organizations and is a major center for multilateral diplomacy in Europe. The prominence of the Mission building in international Geneva and the fact that it is regularly visited by diplomats and political figures from around the world were factors when the U.S. State Department selected Geneva as its “Flagship Post for Energy and Sustainability.” The building is the site of the largest solar energy installation ever undertaken by the Department of State overseas and home to an innovative magnetic levitation (MaglevTM) chiller air conditioning system that runs a virtually friction-free compressor.

Conserving the variety of plant and animal life is also a priority, and in 2009 the Mission became the first State Department facility to earn certification by the U.S. National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Seeking ways to further improve the sustainability of the building and grounds the Mission formed a “Green Team” which developed the concept with ASLA to recruit students for a collaborative sustainable design project. The students were selected by a committee which included representatives from ASLA and the Department of State. Applicants were required to be U.S. citizens and to submit a résumé; 400-word- statement of interest; faculty recommendations; and three samples of project work (see earlier post).

“I am very excited about this project, which will help reinforce the Mission’s reputation as the greenest US diplomatic building in Europe,” said Ambassador Betty E. King, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. “The efforts of this talented team of young landscape architects will not only help us make our environment more sustainable, but also provide our staff with an inspiring and healthy environment which we will enjoy for years to come.”

Stewardship of the natural environment was among the core principles adopted at the founding of ASLA by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1899. Today, the Society continues that focus in all its programs and projects. ASLA is one of three partner organizations, along with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, Austin, and the U.S. Botanic Garden,  spearheading the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a comprehensive rating system for landscapes that is currently in its pilot phase at 150-plus locations. 

“ASLA welcomes the opportunity to showcase the profession’s young talent and skills through the application of sustainable landscape design practices at the Mission,” says ASLA Executive Vice President and CEO Nancy Somerville. “This model project will demonstrate the central role the profession plays in addressing environmental issues.”

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