Florida International University’s Department of Landscape Architecture has added “Environmental and Urban Design” to its title, and expanded its mission to focus on urbanized regions in the tropics and subtropics of Latin America. The department aims to address issues that will affect the lives of an estimated six of the 10 billion people who will live in similar regions by 2100.
The department, along with faculty, graduates and students, is actively involved in the planning of local and national urban centers and international State Parks like the Everglades. They are working with local cities on issues as diverse as sea level rise, clean water supplies, historic preservation, parks design and planning, open green space protection and improved transportation flow patterns.
Department head Roberto Rovira shared his thoughts on the growing importance of landscape architecture and urban design in this interview with Editor at Large.
How would you explain the current state of the landscape architecture industry?
If employment of our graduates is any indication, the landscape architecture industry is doing very well. Within two weeks of our spring commencement, nearly 80% of our graduates had full-time jobs with leading firms. Some of these firms were actually founded by LA+EUD program alumni, and others range from dedicated landscape firms to larger interdisciplinary companies. The number and scale of projects that these firms are working on is notable for its local and global range.
Like much of the content of our courses, the landscape architecture industry explores a broad range of environmental, ecological and urban issues that may include industrial reclamation, historic sites, environmental mitigation, sea level rise and various other topics at the center of the relationship between human beings and their surroundings. The number of issues that the landscape architecture industry deals with is therefore plentiful and a landscape architecture education that prepares students for it has to balance broad creative thinking with concrete technical skills.
Why was now the right time to change the department's name and give it a refresh?
Since our program's founding in 1986, we have focused on environmental and urban design as part of our scope. The new name better reflects our program’s recognized body of work, scholarship, research and creative activity, but it also coincides with an increasing public awareness of the importance of design in addressing pressing issues about our urban context and our environment. Thoughtfully integrated spaces that consider landscape architecture, the environment, and the urban working cohesively have the potential to elevate the human experience, and we want to make sure that people are aware that this is what we do.
What was the idea behind adding urban design to the department?
Urban design is at the core of many of the topics we study, ranging from the design of city parks to streetscapes, to the way that we handle urban courtyards, storm water infrastructure, and food production in places and spaces that may not have been ideally designed for these purposes. For example, within the lifetime of many of our graduates, seven out of 10 people will live in cities and this shift presents profound opportunities for our field and for our program. Landscape architecture, environmental and urban design are essential tools that can help us innovate, envision and creatively address the way we live, work and play in the settings where the majority of the world will live for many years to come.
About how many students enroll in the major each year?
Approximately 28 new students will be joining us this fall. Through a number of initiatives aimed at showcasing our work and that of our alumni, and through the generous support of current and future industry partners and benefactors, we expect to grow in the coming years to keep pace with the demand for our graduates, and to facilitate our increasing involvement in various grants and research opportunities. In recent years, we’ve had success in securing grants from organizations like the U. S. Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade County District 11, the Landscape Architecture Foundation, the Community Foundation of Broward, the Cejas Family Foundation and others. These have made possible various collaborations, research projects, investigations, graduate assistantships and exhibitions.
Where do the students tend to come from?
In terms of our incoming classes, the diversity of backgrounds of our applicants is particularly notable, spanning from business to art to journalism and to many other fields. We seem to attract broad thinkers and a rich diversity of life experiences. Even though our applicants’ educational and professional trajectories are all very different, however, they all finish with an accredited professional Masters of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree.
Depending on the applicant’s academic credentials, students can obtain a Masters Degree via a 5-year accelerated track as freshmen, or through a more traditional route that usually requires two to three years of study, although we are one of the few programs nationally where students with an architecture masters can obtain an MLA in three semesters.
What are some of the most popular courses?
We have a number of electives which are very popular within the School of Architecture and which attract students beyond our department. Some of these courses are: Site Analysis + Design, which uses mapping and diagramming to better understand sites; Visual Notations, which teaches students how to draw, but more importantly how to see; and Catalysts of the Urban Canvas, which looks at projects that are instigators of change in the city, using Miami as its “idea laboratory.”
Who are some of your key professors and what are their backgrounds?
I invite you to take a look at our faculty page, which includes bios with significant accomplishments and titles. We have three full-time faculty members and myself as chair, in addition to a talented network of adjunct faculty. Our faculty includes graduates from some of the leading programs in the country and their backgrounds range from engineering to art to architecture and design.