A top academic in landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, Dr. Nadia Amoroso focuses her work and her teaching methodology on visual representation, urban design, and creative mapping. We sit down with her to discuss everything from her teaching principles to the role that technology and the Visiting Professionals Program plays in her classroom.
Being a top, renowned professor, how did you pick the University of Guelph to continue your career?
I was always interested in the University of Guelph for many reasons. The university has a very robust undergraduate program for landscape architecture. It is actually one of the largest in Canada. The program teaches core knowledge, skills and values associated with the profession of landscape architecture and environmental design within the design studio, construction phases, ecology, plant identification — and so much more. The university also has a top-notch master’s program where students can pick a research topic for their thesis. This gives students a taste of what would be involved with getting a postgraduate degree.
The university is strategically located in a small urban center and it’s close to a major metropolitan area, such as Toronto and Waterloo. Therefore, we have opportunities to conduct both rural and urban-focused projects and field trips. The faculty is accessible to the students and ensures they have a well-rounded education in landscape architecture to prepare the students for various career sectors in the field or postgraduate studies.
Student James Duncan (BLA) uses SketchUp to model an urban design proposal for the East Bayfront in Toronto.
What does landscape architecture mean to you?
Landscape architecture is a loaded profession. It’s an industry where you wear many hats. I think of it like this: we are the stewards of the landscape, and we are designing that landscape for the betterment of the environment and the people using it. It truly is a generalist discipline that allows you to choose your own career path. The profession allows exploration of diverse issues, such as; climate change, historic preservation, resort-design, streetscape improvements, technology-focused aspects like 3D modeling and design, urban design, and more. Truly, there are multiple career pathways.
Who or what inspired you to become a landscape architect?
My inspiration started early — back in high school. Originally I wanted to be an architect, but I changed my mind when I attended an open house for landscape architecture studies. I quickly realized I was more interested in outdoor development than indoor development.
I find the works of awarding-winning landscape architects and educators, such as James Corner, Walter Hood, Martha Schwartz, Mikyoung Kim, George Hargreaves, to name a few, very inspirational and cutting-edge. Places like Yorkville Park in Toronto and the Highline in New York City are a couple of my favorite landscape architectural works.
Another top inspiration: Tongva Park, Santa Monica, LA by James Corner, photo by Nadia Amoroso.
What are some top values you try to teach in your classes?
The most important value that I try to get across to students is that you have to respect and understand the land that you are designing. You need to know that area’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and constraints — and what are the possible design solutions to make this place better given the program (activities/ functions) required for that space. You cannot just force your design into a given environment. You have to let the outdoor space guide you. For example, if you are designing a large master plan landscape near rivers or bodies of water, and flooding may be a concern, the landscape architect should take into consideration the appropriate vegetation to use, and how to ‘scape’ or ‘sculpt’ the landscape to avoid or mitigate flooding situations.
How do you prepare your students for their future careers?
At the University of Guelph, there are professors that specialize in every aspect of landscape architecture, from the fundamentals of landscape architecture to niche specialty areas like contemporary design. With specialist professors, we are able to teach the full design process.
We also help prepare students for their future through design projects. With projects, we are able to teach them how important communication is with the clients. We push visualization (hint: SketchUp and 3D models) because that is the main way to communicate with clients and keep them engaged. From communication, we go to the construction phase and how to get these projects built.
We also, of course, teach them fundamentals that will carry them through their time at the university as well as into their careers. For example, plant identification and ecology.
They take all of their learnings over the years and apply that to their senior year capstone. In their capstone, they get to pick their own site and build out a fully-developed design proposal and present it to critics.
Do you bring technology into the classroom? If so, how and why do you feel that is important for landscape architecture?
Yes, technology is very important for our landscape architecture students. We implement different aspects of technology throughout studio courses. We will try and teach them the basics and then hand it over to them to customize their own preferred workflows. We also invite specialized industry professionals and companies to come and teach everything from the foundation level to the advanced level. An example of this is the Visiting Professionals Program from SketchUp. Essentially, we try to plug-in technology during key stages and courses that a student experiences.
Do you think SketchUp is a powerful tool for your students and other landscape architects? If so, why?
Yes, our landscape architecture students love SketchUp and use it a lot. They tend to use SketchUp more than other programs because it is easy to use and can create key concepts faster.
Normally, I start by giving them an assignment, and they will execute it in SketchUp. I then review the project in SketchUp. For example, they are currently working on redesigning a park in downtown Toronto. They need to incorporate 2D and 3D.
For myself, I have been using SketchUp for a research project. My research project involves creating 3D printed topographical shapes with SketchUp and MakerBot. SketchUp has been very easy to use and MakerBot has created amazing 3D printed results.
Dr. Amoroso’s students to test formal expression in a design project (MLA1 students) using SketchUp. SketchUp Model by Fan Jiang (MLA1 Student, University of Guelph).
As you mentioned earlier, we know you recently participated in the Visiting Professionals Program. How was this experience and why did you decide to participate?
The VPP is an amazing program. Both professors and students look forward to this opportunity - and request it every year. In the program, SketchUp brings industry professionals to help teach basic workflow essentials all the way to advanced industry-specific workflows to help make them more efficient. At the very end of the program, we open it up to all students for a Q&A session. The first year we participated we had the SketchUp team and Daniel Tal, and the second year we had the SketchUp team and Mike Brightman.
The Visiting Professionals Program is extremely valuable in education because it allows direct contact with industry professionals and students in a targeted application versus a YouTube tutorial.
None of this would have been possible without funding from STEF and the OAC Learning Trust Fund to continue participating.
It looks like you are not only a top professor but also an author! Tell us a little bit about your books.
I’ve written several books, but my latest book highlights visual communication in landscape architecture. This book highlights students’ work across the globe. Check it out here. More publications can be viewed here.