"Born to Rewild" with Landscape Designer Margie Ruddick
Congratulations on your Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award! What was it like to win?
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It is exciting and humbling.
Tell us about your influences. Which landscape designers and architects do you admire most?
I love designers who have a deep connection to place. For instance Richard Haag. To me, his work taps into the spirit of the Northwest. I also love designers who just follow their art in a rigorous and inventive way that defies categorization. Beatrix Farrand's paving at the entrance to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, for example, is truly psychedelic. Although it was done sometime between the 1920s and 1940s, it is timeless.
What's your design philosophy?
There are so many ways to approach design. I think my philosophy might be that you approach each project as you would approach raising a child: not expecting it to be like any other; (mostly) respecting given rules and making up some of your own; making sure that there is substance and rigor but also joy.
Do you like working on urban or residential projects most?
I like both. Most urban/public projects take a very long time to get built and often are the product of many committee meetings. On residential projects, you often see things happen in a shorter amount of time and can also experiment with things you would not be able to on a public project. Each enriches the other.
For those who aren't familiar with the "re-wilding" concept, can you briefly describe its core tenets?
The idea is that "wild" landscapes—landscapes that have a certain amount of healthy disorderliness or mess—are not only good for wildlife habitat and the health of the planet, but for our souls as well.
Why is it important?
It is important ecologically, in terms of providing habitat, reducing water runoff, and sequestering carbon, among other benefits. It is also important because landscapes, where life is palpable, help people feel connected to something larger than themselves. I think essential for us and the planet.
One of the projects the Cooper-Hewitt celebrated is the Queens Plaza plan. How is that indicative of your philosophy? Can you tell us a bit about the collaborative approach?
The project integrates infrastructure, ecology, and art. I worked closely with Marpillero Pollak Architects, who analyzed the elevated structures on the site and made sense of them in relation to what is on the ground, and who also collaborated on the landscape and furnishings. We also collaborated with Michael Singer Studio, who brought art and craft into the design of everything from permeable pavers to benches. The result is a landscape that operates on an environmental level—cooling the site, filtering storm water, reducing noise, and scrubbing the air—but also on an artistic level.
What will the audience take away from your discussion on "Re-Wilding Our Cities" at Dwell on Design?
I hope they will be excited about really experiencing landscapes every day and participating in the process of growth and change. I hope people take away an understanding of humans as natural inhabitants of the wild landscape, and cities as natural places for wild landscapes to live and thrive.
Philadelphia-based landscape designer Margie Ruddick takes to the Sustainable Design stage at Dwell on Design Saturday, June 22 at 11:30 a.m.