Harvard landscaping designers are at the forefront of landscaping ideas. They are more innovative and critical than many gardeners in other schools. According to one landscaping publication, “Many Harvard landscaping departments have taken on academic assignments without the help of professional landscapers,” adding, “A good number of landscaping ideas have been carried out by landscaping departments.” Not all gardeners agree with this assessment. Many professional landscaping designers feel that while Harvard is ahead in the research on landscaping design, it is lagging behind in implementation. Harvard has a long way to go if it wants to rival the nation’s best landscaping cities such as those in California or New Mexico.
A number of factors account for the differences in landscaping design at the two top schools. One is the emphasis on form following function, which is not surprising given the long-standing relationship between art and architecture at Harvard. Another is the size and scope of the project, which cannot be pursued simply by working within a traditional box. While many of the projects at top schools may be considered small, they are still extremely large and difficult to execute. This is another reason why many good ideas never get off the ground because they simply cannot be executed.
One of the most important areas of differentiation between Harvard landscaping departments and those at other top schools lies in the kind of materials used. At Harvard, the landscape architecture projects tend to use organic materials, especially grass. In contrast, many of the leading landscape design programs at other schools employ the use of concrete and stone, which are relatively easier to work with.
In addition to the use of natural materials, another important characteristic of Harvard landscape architecture is the focus on form following function. Unlike the design program at Yale or the College of Harvard Business, whose main goals are product design, the programs at top colleges want their graduates to build real cities and communities that are useful and successful. Functional planning is an important element of that vision. This is what led the team that worked on the redesigned Central Park in New York City to make every part of the park an “oasis” in the middle of a busy city.
The landscape architecture and urban planning at Harvard have also resulted in some innovative new urban planning ideas, such as turning public spaces into green space by planting trees. This may seem like a small step forward in green building, but it actually represents a significant advance in the history of planning. In recent years, other top schools including MIT have developed similar plans. Although these ideas are still relatively unusual, they represent a sea change in urban planning. In fact, many believe that such a move could become a standard for new urban planning.
One of the latest landscaping concepts developed at Harvard is based on the “green building” idea, which regards buildings much like a garden. In fact, many of the landscaping ideas at Harvard have inspired similar garden designs at other prominent universities, such as the University of California, Davis. Harvard’s landscape architecture program has also given students’ inspiration for their own masterpieces. For example, one group of students built a physical education center on the campus using sustainable materials.
Harvard University is also home to one of the largest plant species on Earth, the Harvard plant. One group of students recently planted a garden around the largest single plant in Harvard’s history. The plant, known as the Hyacinth Locust, is so huge that it takes two full days to cover an area the size of a football field. Although this landscape architecture project is still a work in progress, it serves as a clear example of how changing the focus from landscape to plant can yield spectacular results. Other landscape architects at Harvard are now exploring similar ideas.
Harvard’s landscape team includes more than 200 professionals with a range of specialties. These include landscape architects, botanists, ecologists, and more. They collaborate closely on each project, working closely with local officials and others who are concerned with the environment. Because of the interdependence of so many disciplines, students have access to a diverse pool of knowledge that they can draw on once they start their design projects. These collaborations have allowed students to create an entirely new context for studying natural landscapes. This new framework not only helps to better understand current practices, but it may pave the way for a new wave of innovations in the field.