The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) was founded in 1966 to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment. LAF’s theory of change is that no matter how sustainability is defined it cannot be achieved without considering landscape solutions. The Foundation supports research, scholarships, and leadership programs within the landscape architecture community to achieve this mission. CCS has had the privilege of working with LAF three times in the last 20 years, most recently during their 50 & Forward Campaign. Despite a small staff, LAF makes a huge impact within the landscape architecture community and environmental sector.
Meg O’Halloran, Executive Director at CCS, spoke with Barbara Deutsch, Executive Director of LAF, about her career, the future of the Foundation, and the invisible ways people interact with landscape architecture on a daily basis.
Meg: How did you start your career?
Barbara: I started my career with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing and MIS from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. I was fortunate enough to work for IBM right out of school and enjoy a successful career. They had the best sales training in the world, and I really made the most of that experience to grow and excel. At the same time, I was also always taking art and design classes at night and on weekends and discovered the profession of landscape architecture through some volunteer work while living and working in San Francisco.
We were looking at the military base closures and what to do with them, and one of our options was to design a New Urbanist community. I thought “Whoa! How great is this? Designing communities that are better for people and better for the environment!” Someone told me I should look into landscape architecture. I didn’t even know what it was, but as I researched, I talked to people, and I thought, “This is a great profession, but no one knows what they do. The world needs what landscape architects have to offer, but they need to get it out there in a way that others are open to receiving it.” So I think it’s pretty interesting that I am where I am now at LAF which requires both my business and design skills and provides the platform to bring the value of landscape architecture to a larger audience.
M: What made you want the job of executive director at LAF?
B: I wasn’t looking for it, actually. I loved what I was doing. I was a consultant for Bioregional, and working on One Planet community programs and loved it, but I had two people who I respect send me an e-mail with the job announcement, saying “this job has your name written all over it!” So I looked into it. It was a really good fit for my interests, talents, and experience. I was immediately impressed by the Board of Directors. They were very passionate and engaged, valued the vision and strategies I presented to them, and they wanted to do it.
M: With the success of the 50 & Forward Campaign, where do you see LAF in the next three to five years?
B: The campaign is helping to bring resources to LAF so that we can grow and enhance what we’re doing, and add some new strategic initiatives. There are enhanced programs that we’ve been wanting to launch, but we needed the added investment to make it possible. The campaign is helping us stabilize and grow the next arc of our organization.
M: LAF recently held, “The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future,” where 70 leading landscape architects came together to issue their challenges and declarations for the future. What were some key takeaways?
B: People were really hungry for the opportunity to come together and talk about the future and something bigger than themselves, and looking for leadership on how they can help. It is clear that there is a need for the landscape perspective to help solve the current environmental and social issues of our time. So whether we’re talking about climate change mitigation or adaptation, or species extinction, or urbanization, equity and inclusiveness, and our health and well-being… a landscape perspective and solutions are integral to solutions. So the point of the Summit was to ask, “How are we as landscape architects going to make our vital contribution?”
When we look back on this moment 50 years from now, I hope we’re going to see that we have started a movement and that this time was a turning point to a larger transformation for the betterment of all. The Summit and the resultant New Landscape Declaration are the start of a conversation to activate and equip people to go out, partner, collaborate, join, and support others who are working on these issues and integrate our unique talents as designers of natural processes, natural resources, and people to inform policy and give artistic physical form and integrated function to the places we live, work, rest, and play. (Click here to view the documentary “The New Landscape Declaration: A Summit on Landscape Architecture and the Future.”)
M: How do you see this work affecting people outside of the landscape architecture profession and community?
B: I think it will increase people’s awareness of the profession. Landscape architecture is already present in everyone’s lives, but usually in invisible ways. When you’re erecting a building, you get an architect. People understand bricks and mortar, but landscapes are the negative space between buildings and how the buildings are arranged and where they are located. It’s the yin and the yang.
As such landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions and often competing interests together to address complex social and ecological problems. Urban rivers are a great example. Many are turned into parks, but they’re also flood control projects. Look at Buffalo Bayou – it looks like a natural river bank, but it’s been programmed. It’s designed to manage flooding, but also serve as a place for people to picnic and relax.
M: What advice do you have for other environmental organizations with a staff of fewer than 10 people to illustrate how you can make an impact?
B: It’s a team effort. First, you need a great board who realizes that their number one fiduciary responsibility is the financial health of the organization. Second, get a strong staff, create a strategic plan, measure your success to your plan, and then move on to the next plan. Third, you need to know what your core competency is, and then go to the experts. For our campaign, we would be nowhere without CCS. We don’t have the staff, nor the expertise to execute that successfully. So partner, engage, and work with consultants or other organizations and individuals who can help you accomplish your goals.