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Public Programs


How Designers Think

November 3, 2017 | Garden and Landscape Studies Colloquium

In the past generation, humanity has crossed a number of significant thresholds: over half the world’s population now lives in cities, a percentage that is sure to grow, and we are living in an age characterized by significant and potentially irreversible anthropogenic climate and ecological transformations. Designers now in the middle of their careers are the first generation to have come of age with the challenge of imagining landscapes that might achieve long-term sustainability, resilience, and adaptability in the face of warming temperatures, rising oceans, and changing weather patterns.  Midcareer landscape designers presented their thoughts about a range of topics from urbanization and globalization to cultural and biological diversity, ecosystem services, and environmental justice in the city, in an effort to explore the conceptual contours of contemporary practice. 

The Power of Place: Preserving the Legacy of African American Settlements

September 20, 2017 | Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

6:00–7:30 pm

Landscape architect and National Humanities Medalist Everett Fly joins Alcione Amos, curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, for a discussion of the importance of preserving historic African American settlements. Focusing on historic Barry Farm, a community created in southeast Washington, D.C. by the Freedmen's Bureau after the Civil War, they ask why some settlements are preserved while others are not, and what the ramifications of this difference are for contemporary African American communities.



Success in the City: Social and Environmental Urban Design for the 21st Century

April 21, 2017 | Smithsonian Earth Optimism Summit Panel, John Beardsley and Jeanne Haffner, Chairs

Modern cities have long been considered adversaries of environmental health. In the late nineteenth century, the poet Émile Verhaeren described the poisonous advance of urban sprawl; the social reformer Ebenezer Howard personified cities as “smoke fiends” to promote his Garden Cities movement in the early twentieth century; and plans for suburban development in the early- to mid-twentieth-century United States were bolstered by images of dark cities plagued by pollution and refuse. It is all the more astonishing, then, that twenty-first-century cities have become sites for environmental remediation, stewardship, and pedagogy. This transformation not only marks a change in cultural attitudes, but also demonstrates the success of environmentally oriented programs of all kinds, from school-based efforts and citizen participation to plans devised by designers and government officials.

Landscapes of Housing

October 14, 2016 | Mellon Colloquium, Harvard University. Sponsored by the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative and the Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks; Jeanne Haffner, Organizer.

Housing programs lie at the very center of socio-spatial relations and the politics of space. Landscape—broadly defined to include ecology, topography, energy infrastructures, aesthetics and ideology—is part of this complex but its role has largely been ignored in housing studies. The aim of this one-day colloquium is to explore how housing shapes landscape and is, in turn, shaped by it. Please note: this colloquium will take place at Harvard University.



Film Screening: Containment

March 23, 2016 | In collaboration with the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

Nuclear waste forces us to think about the distant future: the radioactive trail from our bombs and power plants will last 400 generations. Repeat: 400 generations! So we need a “deep time” contingency plan. How can we mark off toxic land to safeguard our descendants 10,000 years from now, when so little feels truly permanent? Part wake-up call, part observational documentary, part sci-fi graphic novel, Containment tracks our most imaginative attempts to plan for our radioactive future and reveals the startling failure to manage waste in the present, epitomized by the Fukushima disaster.

One of the directors, Peter Galison, will be present and will take questions after the film.

Frontiers in Urban Landscape Research

November 20, 2015 | Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies Graduate Workshop

As part of a new program in urban landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, doctoral candidates in advanced stages of writing dissertations on topics in the history and design of urban landscapes have been invited to share selected aspects of their work with each other and with senior designers and scholars in the field. This colloquium is an opportunity to bring together early-career scholars pursuing cross-disciplinary work and shaping new approaches to the urban environment. It is intended to generate greater awareness of the urban humanities, while helping an emerging generation of scholars advance their work across a range of relevant fields.



River Cities: Historical and Contemporary

May 8–9, 2015 | Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, Thaisa Way, Symposiarch

Resilience and adaptability are key elements of viable urbanism. But how have these concepts been understood historically? And how do they shape the design and stewardship of urban landscapes today? The dynamic relationships between cities and their rivers, a landscape of potentially critical adaptability and resilience, is the focus of “River Cities: Historical and Contemporary.” Building on the emergence of urban humanities and urban landscape history, we propose to consider the urban river as a city-making landscape deserving of careful reading and analysis: past, present, and future.

The subject of this symposium builds on a new multiyear initiative in Urban Landscape Studies, which Dumbarton Oaks is launching in 2015 with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Its principal goal is to create a dialogue between designers and scholars to address the landscape consequences of advancing urbanization. With this task in mind, the 2015 symposium aims to bring together the work of contemporary designers with the historical perspectives of scholars, encouraging practitioners and historians to bridge the gaps between their modes of thinking.

A publication of the symposium proceedings is forthcoming from Dumbarton Oaks Publications.