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Tim Baird: Lessons in Materiality

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Tim Baird portrait

Tim Baird, professor of landscape architecture and 2015–16 Stuckeman Professor in Interdisciplinary Design in the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, will return to the studio this fall with plenty of new material on materials. Between his Knight Cities Challenge project in Philadelphia, his individual research, two individual presentations at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, and his participation in last spring’s Borland Project Space Faculty Research Exhibition, Baird has maintained a busy schedule.

A scholar of materiality in landscape design, Baird’s other research interests include environmental art and designed landscapes that were commissioned in land reclamation contexts. In the spring, he gave a public lecture, “Landscape Materiality: innovation and convention from Modernism to the present,” at Lisbon University in Lisbon, Portugal. As part of his visit, he also participated in two graduate M.L.A. course reviews and gave a class lecture, “Design as Research.”

Baird was awarded a 2015 Dumbarton Oaks Summer Fellowship where he utilized the extensive library and archives to explore the material expression and experimentation of mid-century American Modernists, French Modernists, and the American landscape architect, Fletcher Steele, who introduced the French work to an American audience.

During summer 2016, Baird took a research trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he interviewed designers on their use of materials, visited offices to see new work being done, and documented new landscape architecture projects in the area, to add to his database of information that he uses in teaching his courses, particularly studios. One of the highlights of his trip was interviewing Peter Walker about his innovative use of materials over the years.  Walker is former chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, as well as former head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. He began practicing landscape architecture in the 1950s in San Francisco as co-founder and principal of Sasaki Walker.

“At 84, he has lived through Modernism and is still practicing all over the world,” noted Baird. “We also talked about my upcoming ASLA [American Society of Landscape Architects] panel, ‘The Widening Gap Between Practice and the Academy: Problems and Potential Solutions.’ Since he has taught and practiced over the years, he offered insight on the issue that will be very useful for our panel in October.”

Baird will be giving two panels at the ASLA Conference in New Orleans, the one mentioned above and one on his Knight Cities Challenge project, “Urban Arboreta: Transforming Ground.” His was one of the 32 winning proposals of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge. Baird shares this victory with collaborator Deenah Loeb, executive director of City Parks Association of Philadelphia. The project also has two new Penn State affiliates, Qin Fang (’16 B.L.A.) and Wilson Lee (’16 B.L.A.), whose submissions were selected in the URBAN ARBORETA: Transforming Ground International Student Design Competition. Four winners were selected, with two being Penn Staters.

The student winners will work with the community to finalize a plan for the prototype native plant nursery on a vacant parcel of land in West Philadelphia.

“The student winners of the competition are very excited to be involved in the regeneration of vacant land in Philadelphia. After ten years of studios in Philadelphia that have focused on ways to reclaim and re-purpose vacant property in the city, we are almost to the point of actually buying the plants and installing the nursery prototype; hopefully, the neighborhood and city will reap the benefits in the very near future.”

For more information on the Urban Arboreta project, visit the project website:

To watch Tim Baird’s lecture, “Landscape Materiality: innovation and convention from Modernism to the present,” at Lisbon University, visit the YouTube link:

The video about his installation in the Borland Project Space Exhibition can be found at: