Thousands of acres – Stu Weinreb, ASLA
In 1970, I was a student without a clue at City College of New York. In April of that year the first Earth Day celebration took place throughout the city, and I was suddenly brought to an awareness of the many environmental threats the world was facing. Though exciting, that great but nebulous inspiration faded as I made my way through college and into the next phase of life.
With nothing in particular to offer the working world, and no goal other than to support myself, I fell back on skills I developed in a high school drafting class, and in 1973 took a job as a draftsman in a civil engineer’s office. One day, a set of drawings arrived, presumably for review and coordination purposes. As I unrolled the drawings I was shocked to see that they did not have the kinds of floor plans, piping diagrams, or pump specifications I was used to seeing – they showed trees! Planting plans! Paving layouts! Very cool – but who did this stuff? That was my introduction to landscape architecture. I began to intensively research the profession, and, realized that it embodied a number of my interests – design, science, and environment. Without delay, I applied and was accepted to the MLA program at the State University of New York’s school of Environmental Science and Forestry.
At ESF, I learned of the many directions that landscape architects can head in with their careers. It all sounded good, but I fancied myself a designer – no doubt destined to be a great one! Upon graduation I worked in a small private office in Syracuse, and then in 1981 moved to Boston where I did a two year stint at The Architects Collaborative – oh yeah! The big time! Well that ended all too soon as the firm went into a nosedive from which it never recovered. Soon after I began working at Moriece & Gary, where I met Harry Dodson, who was collaborating with the firm on his Copley Square competition design, but his day job was at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management – the state’s parks agency. Harry mentioned that DEM was looking for a landscape architect to head up the restoration of Walden Pond, and asked if I would be interested. Well, suddenly it all came together: an opportunity to use my design skills and my knowledge of natural systems to benefit the environment. Sign me up!
Over the course of my 17 years at DEM, I was fortunate to work on some very interesting projects, at places like Plymouth Rock, Wachusett Mountain, and Mt. Greylock. A very gratifying part of this work was that it was for “the greater good” – that is, the environment was improved, and the average Joe could appreciate and enjoy it. But this gratification came only in part from design. Underlying it all was the mission, the intent, and the goals. I came to realize that protecting and enhancing important natural resources, and crafting opportunities for people to appreciate the benefits of our natural world were, and continue to be, amongst the most important skills that we as landscape architects offer.
I never did get to be the bigtime designer I imagined myself. My work transitioned to project management. At DEM, I was given the responsibility of overseeing larger projects, for which bigger scale planning and goal-setting was necessary. I needed to hire architects, engineers, and….landscape architects(! ) to flesh out the project vision we developed. Hmmm… project management can be pretty cool after all. Kind of like being an environmental design czar! Well, at least in my mind anyway.
In 2003 I was fortunate to be offered the position of Mass Audubon’s Director of Capital Assets & Planning, overseeing major capital improvements at the organization’s statewide network of wildlife sanctuaries. This work involves environmental protection and enhancement over an even broader spectrum, and draws on my project management experience as well as my training as a landscape architect to advance and shape projects to embody our goals. I bring my training and experience to projects that create the greenest facilities we can, reduce our organization’s carbon footprint, and help people appreciate the nature of Massachusetts.
I have also continued to be involved in the Walden Pond scene, serving on the Walden Pond Advisory Board for over fifteen years, helping the state’s Department of Conservation & Recreation make appropriate management and planning decisions pertaining to the state reservation. Like my work at Mass Audubon, I believe that my landscape architecture background has allowed me to bring an important approach and sensibility to projects and places that can enhance people’s experiences and protect our environment at the same time. I think it’s safe to say that now I have a clue.