Draft dynamic designs.

A landscape architecture design

How would you turn a 47-acre parcel of abandoned property crisscrossed with wetlands and utilities into a dynamic recreation site that can serve as a meeting place for an entire community? That’s the assignment that URI landscape architecture students tackled this year as part of their senior design studio. And it was a challenge, given that they had real clients to satisfy – not just a professor – and a final presentation to a room full of public officials and community members.

This is the first project I’ve ever worked on where I had a real client who I worked for. ~John Luca

That’s the kind of real-world experience you can expect at URI if your passion is landscape architecture. Every year, students work on public service projects in a local community, and every year the students say that while the design project was demanding, they especially appreciated the chance to work in a realistic setting with all the pressures and deadlines of the real world.

This year they started by soliciting ideas from local residents at a public meeting, and then conducted two surveys seeking input on preferred recreation needs. Later they exhibited preliminary plans to a jury of designers at URI before presenting their final designs at another public meeting.

“Our design provides passive and active recreation designed for young and old alike,” said Amanda Gaal of Mansfield, Mass., whose group recommended creation of a diverse array of recreational facilities, a community center, a sculpture garden, and a walkway that connects to the statewide North-South Trail. “It will also incorporate sustainable practices that will benefit the town through reduced maintenance costs.”

In past years, students in the award-winning landscape architecture program have created plans for South Kingstown High School, the URI Bay Campus, a campground at Fishermen’s Memorial State Park, and a high-traffic commercial intersection in Wakefield. They even created a memorial to the September 11 attacks for the Natick, Mass., fire and police departments, which included a twisted steel beam salvaged from the World Trade Center.

While the students are always excited to share their design ideas with the public, the projects are also a powerful learning experience.

“This is the first project I’ve ever worked on where I had a real client who I worked for,” said John Luca of Smithfield about the Richmond recreation project. “We learned a lot from having to respond to their needs. It’s not what we want that is important in this project, it’s what the people of Richmond want that’s important.”

It’s a lesson that you, too, will learn when you’re ready to put your design ideas to a real test.


Graduate student Patrick Cavanagh is an advocate for alternative transportation fuels and technologies that will reduce petroleum use in Rhode Island, and the URI Outreach Center is giving him plenty of opportunities to put his passions into action.