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Students design theoretical landscape architecture plans for Fort Trumbull site

David Rubin ´85, an award-winning landscape architect, critiques a student project.
David Rubin ´85, an award-winning landscape architect, critiques a student project.

Facing a panel of judges - including a developer, community activist, professor and David Rubin, an award-winning landscape architect from the Connecticut College class of 1985 - students in Professor Eric Kramer's Landscape Architecture Design Studio class shared their proposals for an interim public landscape on the site of New London's Fort Trumbull development area. The city of New London began clearing the 90-acre site on the banks of the Thames River for redevelopment 10 years ago. Development has stalled for a number of reasons, however, including a legal challenge to the use of eminent domain that was eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. While the city works to lure developers, Kramer asked his class to use their landscape architecture design skills to come up with hypothetical short-term solutions.

"The primary goal of this project is to develop the currently empty landscape as a public amenity which will bring people to the site, activate the site and create a setting that will attract potential development," Kramer said

The students were asked to think realistically, but didn't have to consider cost. Jordan Gray '11 proposed a series of pathways that reflect the natural weave of the topography, creating a park-like setting with an earth amphitheater and an ice rink. Several students suggested using the land for urban farming, or an expansion of the city's existing organic gardens, while John Maxon '10 suggested a nursery and sapling farm. The students' proposals included detailed concept plans and diagrams, site plans and character drawings. Each student had five minutes to convince Rubin, a partner with the Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm OLIN, as well as John Brooks, executive director of the New London Development Corp.; Sandra Chalk, executive director of New London Landmarks; and Abigail Van Slyck, the Dayton Professor of Art History and director of Architectural Studies at Connecticut College, of the merits of their plan.

"Presenting to a diverse audience pushes the students to find a language that is broad based and accessible to people of different backgrounds," Kramer, a visiting instructor of art history and architectural studies, said. He added that having a well-known alumnus like Rubin on the panel was invaluable. "He brings knowledge of the design profession and the issues that are driving the profession today," he said.

Natalie Sharp '10 said she was a little nervous about presenting to Rubin. "He's very insightful and clearly knows what he is talking about," Sharp said. "I used Richard Serra's work as an inspiration and he mentioned that he's worked with Serra. That's very cool."

Marc Clinton '11 said he appreciated Rubin's feedback on his proposal to use the Fort Trumbull area for urban farming, a farmers market and a fish market. "His critique was very informative," Clinton said. "He pointed out the mistakes I've made, and told me how to fix them."

Rubin, who studied art and art history at Connecticut College, said he was impressed by the students' projects and by the fact that the college's architectural studies curriculum includes landscape architecture. "I get such pleasure seeing young people with great ideas, and I get kernels of ideas to bring back to my own work," Rubin said. "The students' ideas gesture toward rejuvenating New London, which is currently lagging in sustainable design."

Rubin added that the students' liberal arts education will be a huge advantage should they decide to pursue careers in architecture or design. "My liberal arts experience has served me so well that I use it every day in my practice," he said. "I'm able to work with a broad range of clients because I know a little bit about lots of subjects - I know a little bit about government, a little bit about economics and a lot about art and art history. Connecticut College helped me become a leader in my field."

December 28, 2009