Landscape Architecture Professor Awarded Dumbarton Oaks Research Scholarship

With this charcoal gestural drawing, "Perspective of Light," professor Carl Smith recorded the changing impressions of a landscape as light conditions shifted through the day.
Image courtesy of Carl Smith

With this charcoal gestural drawing, "Perspective of Light," professor Carl Smith recorded the changing impressions of a landscape as light conditions shifted through the day.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A University of Arkansas landscape architecture professor is spending a month in Washington, D.C., researching in one of the most extensive collections of contemporary landscape work in the United States.

Carl Smith, an associate professor in the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, was awarded a research scholarship in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, a Harvard University research institute, library, museum and garden.

He'll be researching in the Contemporary Landscape Design Collection, which focuses on illuminating the design process for a select group of contemporary landscape designers, including Richard Haag and Michael Van Valkenburgh. The collection includes sketches, drawings, plans, images and other documents for some of the designers' most significant projects.

Smith began his research May 20, and he will be at Dumbarton Oaks through June 17. He will focus on drawings in the contemporary collection, looking at how landscape designers relate their perceptions of site to what they want to achieve through their design work.

"It's an understanding of the site that comes through how you feel, what you see, what you experience," Smith said. "It's the more poetic end of site understanding and less of the technical side."

Dumbarton Oaks awards just a handful of research grants each year. Smith said he's excited about the opportunity, which is one of the most competitive scholarly initiatives in landscape architecture.

Smith said he's searching the Dumbarton Oaks collection to look for tangible evidence from landscape architects and designers of the importance of understanding how the senses are evoked by landscape.

From there, he's hoping to use that knowledge to make more long-term choices about how the landscape should be developed. He said it goes beyond gathering input from landscape practitioners and urban planners and extends to getting feedback during the design process from people who actually use the land.

"Getting members of the public to report how they feel about a particular landscape should help landscape practitioners and planners decide what those changes might be," he said.

Next, Smith plans to take his findings into the classroom, both at the Fay Jones School and abroad, where he has visiting professorships in England and the Czech Republic.

He has already been looking at the topic through tactical urbanism projects, which are low-cost, short-term improvements to the built environment. One of Smith's classes took part in a tactical urbanism project with the city of Fayetteville in March, and they also developed ideas for tactical urbanism interventions for Santa Cruz, Bolivia. 

"For the last few years, I've become more and more interested in demonstrating to students the importance of these more sensorial understandings of landscape," Smith said.

Smith said he'll also consider publishing his findings, depending on the outcome of his research at Dumbarton Oaks. 


Shawnya Lee Meyers, digital media specialist
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

Michelle Parks, director of communications
Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design


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