Team of students, faculty wins national master plan design competition
A team of faculty and students from Virginia Tech has won the Casey Trees Master Plan Design Competition.
Fifty interdisciplinary university teams from across the country were invited to submit proposals for a master plan for the Casey Tree Farm, and four finalist teams presented their designs earlier this summer for the farm’s more than one-square-mile of forest and farmland. The jury unanimously selected Virginia Tech’s proposal.
Casey Trees is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, established in 2002, committed to restoring, enhancing, and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital. To support this effort, the organization maintains the Casey Tree Farm, with a nursery housing more than 10,000 trees, located on 730 acres of forests and fields bordered by the Shenandoah River in Clarke County, Va.
In their master plan design, Virginia Tech’s team blended expertise, new technology, and practical knowledge with innovative approaches to design. The team’s proposal placed a heavy emphasis on research, production technology, and whole farm management, including sustainable methods of nursery tree production.
The plan also incorporated sustainable approaches to food production and the renovation of the historic architecture on the property.
Susan Piedmont-Palladino, a professor of architecture at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center and member of winning team said, “We want Casey Tree Farm to be a model for good stewardship, agroforestry, water conservation, and whole-farm practices.”
The plan includes recommendations from Associate Professor John Fike of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for three agroforestry approaches to crop production: alley cropping, silvopasture, and forest farming. Eric Wiseman, an associate professor of urban forestry and arboriculture in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment also recommended new approaches for the farm’s nursery operation based on growth mediums and methods developed at Virginia Tech.
Said Wiseman, “this project is a perfect example of blending the university’s mission to use research-based knowledge and technology to address real-world challenges for our stakeholders in the commonwealth.”
Wiseman credits his team’s success to their ability to think critically and creatively about the future sustainability of the farm and capitalize on the abundant natural resources found there. Wiseman also says he believes that the multidisciplinary background of the team created synergy and challenged everyone to think outside of his or her disciplinary paradigms.
The team also took a creative approach to their presentation, choosing a light-hearted and innovative way of sharing their ideas, by looking back at the success of the Casey Trees over the years from the perspective of 50 years in the future, even including a, “where are they now,” look at the students on the team.
In addition to Fike, Piedmont-Palladino and Wiseman, the team included faculty from Virginia Tech’s locations in Blacksburg and Alexandria, Va.:
- Nathan Heavers, an assistant professor of landscape architecture in the School of Architecture + Design in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
- Paul Kelsch, an associate professor of landscape architecture at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center; and
- John Munsell, an associate professor and forest management extension specialist in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
The team also included five graduate students:
- Taylor Chakurda, of Pittsburgh, Pa., a master’s student in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment
- Laura Cohen, of Topton, Pa., master’s of landscape architecture student at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
- Amanda Foran, of Auburn, Ala., a master’s of landscape architecture student at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies;
- Sarah Richter of New Providence, N.J., a master’s student in architecture at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies; and
- Andrea Swiatocha, of Washington, D.C., a master’s student in architecture at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies.
Team leader Paul Kelsch got the ball rolling on the project and the team continued to expand throughout the 11-month competition as new members with additional areas of expertise were drawn in, and despite initial concerns about the growth and potential challenges of working with a large team comprising numerous disciplines, the diversity of perspectives proved invaluable. The team members and learned from one another, in many cases learning to speak each other’s language and learning technical aspects of each other’s disciplines.
“It was a big team, but we couldn’t have done it without any one of them,” Kelsch commented. “If this were just a design competition, we likely wouldn’t have won. Likewise, if the team were just foresters, it would not have been as strong. But putting it all together — across disciplines, across generations, and even across the state — our team really came together.”
Both the members of the Virginia Tech team and Casey Trees look at this not only as a valuable experience, but also as the beginning of an ongoing relationship rather than the end of a competition.
“On behalf of Casey Trees I hope this competition opens doors for the students as they move into their careers. I also hope this opens doors for future collaborations between Virginia Tech and Casey Trees,” said Mark Buscaino, executive director of Casey Trees. “As time progresses and our tree production operations mature, we will look to engage [the] design team ideas that enhance Casey Tree Farm and help us connect people to trees.”
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.