Nielsen sign on Horizons of Landscape Architecture

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As New York rebuilds from a long pandemic year, Pratt students are partnering with the local community in Brooklyn and beyond to support a better, more equitable future with innovative solutions. In the Making a Difference series, Pratt’s news page highlights ways students and faculty have worked for positive change in areas such as sustainability, climate change, social justice, civic engagement and public health. This article is the fourth in the series.

Over the past few months, outdoor spaces where people can safely gather and enjoy nature have been crucial in cities. Little Island, which opened in May on the former site of Manhattan’s Pier 54 on the Hudson River, offers a new experience for New Yorkers to explore trails through trees and plantings overlooking the water as well as to enjoy leisure and performance spaces. The design is a collaboration between UK-based studio Heatherwick and New York-based landscape architecture firm MNLA, led by Undergraduate Architecture Adjunct Professor Signe Nielsen.

Nielsen recently joined Pratt Presents for a panel discussion on the design of Little Island – a conversation that can be viewed online – and will teach in the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) program launching in fall 2022. She answered some questions about the importance for the School of Architecture to launch a landscape architecture program now, its work on Little Island and other landscape projects, and the need to consider the impact of climate change on nature in the public space.

Signe Nielsen, FASLA, founding partner of the MNLA and faculty member of the School of Architecture, at the Hunts Point Landing site in the Bronx, New York. The Reef Balls, which are an integral part of the park’s design, provide habitat, dampen waves and are the latest step in a project that has created a gently descending sequence of wetland pools carved into a once steep bank.

Little Island opens in a time of change for the city where outdoor space is more crucial than ever. What is he offering New Yorkers right now?

Little Island offers 2.5 acres of new waterfront park within Hudson River Park. For a neighborhood devoid of open spaces – I don’t think the High Line, as beautiful and popular as it is for tourists and some New Yorkers, qualifies as a neighborhood park – it seamlessly blends nature and culture under rare shapes to be found in most public spaces.

Why is now an important time to start a landscape architecture program?

There has never been a better time than now to start a new landscape architecture program. The field of landscape architecture is vast, which is necessary at this time to research strategies and ideas to advance climate positive design. Landscape architects are trained to think of systems rather than objects, and it is these environmental and human systems that must be seen as integrated if we are to make substantial and rapid progress in addressing the acute impacts of climate change.

Working within the creative and innovative suite of world-class graduate programs at Pratt, the Master of Landscape Architecture program joins this esteemed company. Located in New York City, the program will rely on this urban fabric as a laboratory, rich in both opportunities and challenges.

Little Island (photo de Timothy Schenck)Putting Community First in Planning the Future of a Brooklyn Neighborhood, School of Architecture advocates for climate education with pavilions and projects on Governors Islandand architecture students explore how aquaculture could transform industrial Brooklyn with oysters and seaweed.

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