A New Meaning to Outdoors

A New Meaning to Outdoors
Oct 2016 , by , in FEATURES

A New Meaning to Outdoors


Margie Ruddick, a noted Philadelphia, USA based landscape architect is the co-founder of Shillim Foundation, a platform dedicated to facilitating positive action in the areas of conservation, sustainability and healing. Recipient of the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in Landscape Architecture, Margie on her recent visit to India, spoke to Sapna Srivastava about her project Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa and her environmental approach to landscape design that integrates ecology, architecture and culture. 

 For over twenty years, Margie has been recognized for her pioneering work in sustainable landscape architecture. Dwell Magazine identifies her as a “Landscape Design Icon” and Elle Décor names Margie as one of five landscape designers “who are reshaping our world”. Asking about the role of landscape architecture in shaping societies, she said, “It was not until recently that the general public could see how important landscape architects are in creating civic spaces. Yet I think it is more a case of landscape architecture reflecting or expressing societies than actually shaping them.”
Through selective mowing, planting, pruning, and frequently doing no maintenance, the internationally renowned landscape designer, created a wild landscape that was unlike any front yard her neighbors had ever seen. When she received a summons from the city citing her garden’s weed height, Ruddick questioned her “wild experiment” and began to wonder: What are the principles that make a landscape wild without being chaotic? It was this experience that set Ruddick on a mission to redefine the meaning of sustainable landscape design.


Design and Conservation


Margie’s book Wild By Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes, was published in March 2016. The book promotes the connection between design and conservation. Explaining the concept, the designer stated, “The very first studies one does in the analysis phase can set the design tone for the whole project. Conservation in this era does not mean just acquiring land and cordoning it off.   That strategy has occasionally lead to losses, as in most cases there was some form of human intervention before acquisition, and suddenly the landscape is left on its own; without proper management, forests can become overcrowded, the ground plane shaded out, and biodiversity minimized.  By seeing conservation as a creative act, synthesizing so many different elements, and by thinking of development as possibly supporting, and not detracting from, the conservation mission, we will find creative ways to understand and safeguard our precious landscapes.”Giving examples of her works, the designer further elucidated, “The Shillim Foundation, grew out of the planning and design work on what has become Hilton Shillim Estates. A Tai Chi and meditation retreat, and a project that I started 15 years ago is now in its phase II – 18 acres of land that was once farmland, we have transformed it with three acres of open water plus 10 acres of new forests.”It is quite demanding formally, making the architecture and gardens weave in and out of the more ecologically focused plantations.


It’s not enough for a place to fulfill sustainability checklists with the optimized energy performance or stormwater management techniques; to invest people in landscapes, designers must also consider the cultural and artistic aspects of landscapes.


Works & Experiences


Apart from Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat & Spa, Margie’s projects include Urban Garden Room- New York, New York Aquarium, Casa Cabo – Mexico, Kinderhook- New York and Boxwood Farm- New Jersey etc. her recently completed project – a transformative design for New York City’s Queens Plaza has won awards for promoting a new idea of nature in the city. According to her there is a vital need to integrate income generating uses into conservation lands, which cannot be supported by the government as a rule; and to use economics to create a system of valuing ecosystem services, meaning how much carbon is sequestered in a forest, for example, or how much storm-water surge is dispersed in a wetland. “Any project exists at the confluence of designer, client, and program.  Program can be driven by the client, but often it’s necessary to show whoever the audience is. These values need to be integrated into planning and design,” she commented.


In China she worked with artist Betsy Damon to design the Living Water Park, the first ecological park in China, which cleans polluted river water biologically. Elaborating on the relationship between local and global synergies, she said. “We always have to move back and forth between global and local. One universal truth is that forging collaborations with local people, designers and engineers in particular, from the outset, makes a project work better, look better, and ultimately have more meaning.”


Margie has crafted an innovative methodology that combines the structured manmade landscape and the contrasting wild and free surroundings with attention to the messy margins where life happens.The approach blurs the lines between ecology and art, leading to the creation of beautiful and sustainable places. As she said, “No matter how well you design a system, the most compelling factor in creating places that people will care for, tend, safeguard, and really live in is the way they feel and look, the way they function as places for living. So make bioswales, make pavement permeable, generate all of your energy off the grid but ultimately make beautiful places for people to love.”



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