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Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies

Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks has received a major award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create an interdisciplinary program in urban landscape studies. This grant is one of eighteen made by the Mellon Foundation so far to significant institutions of higher education and research, including Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, through their initiative in “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities.” Grants are intended to foster the joint contributions that the humanities and the design and planning disciplines may make to understanding the processes and effects of burgeoning urbanization. At Dumbarton Oaks, the program brings landscape architects and historians together to explore how urban environments got to be the way they are and how best to manage them today.

The program at Dumbarton Oaks involves four principal components: semester-long fellowships shared among designers and academics, with additional opportunities for field research funding; shorter-term invitational residencies for senior practitioners; a series of academic events, such as the Mellon Midday Dialogues, that create a framework for interactions among these scholars and practitioners, along with other humanities scholars at Dumbarton Oaks and neighboring academic institutions; and a series of public programs including lectures, colloquia, workshops, and publications, all aimed at disseminating the initiative’s work nationally and internationally. 

The project is organized around broadly conceived themes and structured to acknowledge the current importance of sustainability, adaptability, and resilience, while encouraging a greater historical awareness of these concepts. The themes promote an understanding of cities as landscape systems by inviting engagement with such topics as topography, hydrology, climate, and urban form; landscape and public history; the urban/rural interface; urban biodiversity; productive urban landscapes; the repurposing of derelict urban spaces; and informal urbanism. In these ways, the project seeks to enlarge the discourse of landscape urbanism, still relatively professionalized and Western in focus, to encompass a wide range of cultures and topics.

Image: "Seasons March", a scene from Pina, the film by Wim Wenders, 2011. Jeremy Foster presented a Midday Dialogue in 2016 which analyzed culture, nature and citenzenship during periods of transition.

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