Landscape architect leaves lasting legacy
Virginia Tech is well known for its beautiful campus. For many, the collegiate gothic architecture and Hokie Stone facades are reminders of the university’s storied history. The manicured landscapes invite students, employees, and visitors to enjoy the open green spaces.
It’s what drew Chevy Chase, Maryland, native Matt Gart to Virginia Tech as an undergraduate student in 1981, and it’s what kept him in Blacksburg after he earned his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture.
Since then, for nearly 31 years, Gart has had a key leadership role in nearly every outdoor landscaping project at Virginia Tech.su
His work is incredible, say his peers. His commitment to sustainability and native plants and trees has put Virginia Tech on the map as one of the most sustainably friendly campuses in the country.
“Matt goes above and beyond what is expected by coordinating with all the stakeholders involved in projects, taking everyone’s comments and concerns, and improving the final project,” said Jason Soileau, university architect and vice president for the Office of University Planning.
Gart’s worked on numerous large projects, including the landscape work for the ongoing Southgate 460 interchange project, but it’s some of the smaller projects that have brought him the most pride.
The April 16 memorial is one example.
“That was super difficult. We had three months to design and build the memorial so it would be done when the students came back to school [in August 2007],” said Gart. “I think it turned out exceptionally well and I’m really really proud of that.”
Gart was also behind the design of the Hokie Stone entry walls at the corner of Prices Fork Road and West Campus Drive and the stone pre-cast signs at the Inn at Virginia Tech as well as the stone walls at the corner of Main Street and Alumni Mall.
There’s an area between Norris and Randolph halls that used to be a parking lot, but has since been turned into a usable green space with large Oak trees. Now, says Gart, it’s a really nice shady place that accommodates class change traffic and provides students a place to sit and study.
Creating courtyards that give students the opportunity to visit with each other and are accessible to everyone regardless of physical limitations, has been important to Gart during his career.
He believes material selection has been key to so many successful projects for the University Architects office on campus. While choosing the best materials is often costlier, the commitment to do so created landscapes that will last.
The Eggleston quad area is another project Gart worked on that seems simple, but has had a huge impact in maintaining the character of the campus and respecting the quadrangle as an open space.
The gravel walkways were replaced with concrete, seating walls were added, and half dead trees were replaced with Elm trees that mimicked the original 1930s designs, and a small barbeque area was added.
The big trees and open lawn spaces are what give you the sense of academia and stability, a feel every college campus should have, says Gart. He has worked closely with the campus Arboretum Committee over the years on campus plant selection with an emphasis on native species. Using native plants supports the native wildlife and prevents non-native species from choking out native plants, says Gart.
“He has an excellent ‘eye’ for creating environments that beautify campus, bring people together, and promote the Virginia Tech experience,” said Soileau.
Gart, age 53, retires today. While he won't visit the Virginia Tech campus every day, there's no question he'll be back often. He and his wife, Lisa Yagle, who also graduated from Virginia Tech, frequently attend basketball and football games. Both of their children, Morgan and Sean, have graduated from Virginia Tech as well. Their daughter Morgan studied Spanish and math, while their son Sean has a bachelor's degree, master's degree, and Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and is now working as a post doc at John Hopkins University.
Gart won’t be able to spend all of his time mountain biking or playing tennis. He has accepted a position as a landscape architect with the City of Roanoke’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
The job is a natural second career for him, he said. It allows him to combine his love of the outdoors with his passion for landscape architecture and have an impact on the public spaces that thousands of Roanoke residents use. And, since the gig is part time, Gart hopes to find himself with more time to do many of the things he loves: sailing, hiking, skateboarding, and maybe a little fishing too.