Landscape Architecture senior design studio, LAR 444, involves its students in local communities to find solutions for different types of problems. Each year the studio focuses on either coastal resilience or sustainable solutions.

William Green, instructor for LAR 444, said this is a service learning studio that “focuses on sustainable landscape architecture addressing issues in communities or coastal settings with an eye on the future.”

Each year the course has a client, or a partner, that they work with in order to solve a problem, or a series of problems, throughout the semester. This semester they are working with South Kingstown Senior Town Planner Douglas McLean to develop alternative visions for the future of the Saugatuck river and the commercial district around it. The title for this course this year is “Vision for the Saugatuck, A Sustainable and Resilient Corridor.” An important focus to this class is on sustainability.

“We try to push them towards either making the solution green or to consider where the material is coming from or the waste that is generated in the process,” Green said.

Katie Meegan, a senior landscape architecture major, explains how this means creating ideas that are both environmentally friendly as well as economically efficient. “It’s been challenging to address the issues of cost and ecologically-friendly design,” she said, “but in the past two months alone I have learned a lot and I feel that this could be incredibly important for landscape designs across the world and into the future.”

According to Green, “design is a discovery practice and it starts with knowing the limits of where you’re working and knowing what your client and the stakeholders [want].”

On Sept. 28, the students started off their discovery by holding a public workshop so that the students could find out what their clients wanted to see happen with their projects.

“The students facilitated two or three interactive moments or activities,” Green said, in order to find out everyone’s thoughts and opinions of the river.

Having this workshop so early in the semester is not typical for this class. “Normally [the public workshops] occur in the middle [of the semester] so [the students] can present things to their clients and stakeholders and then get feedback… that leads to design so that they have direction,” Green said.

Meegan believes that their workshop was a success.

“I was a little unsure at first because I’ve personally never experienced a meeting of people like that, but it was incredibly interesting for me to be able to talk to so many different types of people,” Meegan said. “They had a lot of valuable input about the site we’re working on because they live and work around it every day.”

Green is adamant on the importance of his students learning how to work with the public. “Many landscape architects are working in the public sector,” he said. “I think that what we understand as landscape architects is that everyone seems to have their favorite streets, favorite places to go, and what defines those are visual qualities and certain aesthetics.”

After the students get a sense from the community of what they want with this project, the students will then be sent to the Saugatuck River to perform a site analysis. “That’s what they’re engaged in right now,” Green said.

Throughout the semester, the students will be focusing on different concepts and designing different ways to approach those concepts. Some of these concepts can and will include water and recreation, economic development, water quality and ecology, and much more. At the close of the class, six to seven students will present their ideas at a public meeting and a final report will be given to the town.

“The town is not going to implement a project that students are just developing concepts for,” Green said, “the idea of the report is that the town wants something they can use.” But if the town is interested in any of the ideas or concepts put forth by the students, then the town will take matters into their own hands and hire a designer to make these concepts a reality. Something that has happened in previous years, according to Green.