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Featuring MLA Summer 2015 Student Work

MLA Summer 2015

During Summer 2015, fourteen students from Auburn’s Landscape Architecture (MLA) program participated in a highly collaborative design exercise to prepare individual master plans for a regional park proposed for Columbus, Georgia. The fourteen plans present concepts for park development on the Kendall Creek tract, an area comprising 817 undeveloped acres currently owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) at the north boundary of the Fort Benning Military Reservation.

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The design exercise specified a regional park concept to incorporate and highlight the complex and multi-layered natural and cultural history of the site. The tract is currently planted in loblolly pine but was formerly part of a diverse longleaf pine forest that once extended from Virginia to Florida, and west as far as Texas. The Nature Conservancy’s management of the tract focuses on restoring longleaf habitat as an extension of similar habitat on adjacent Fort Benning.

The Kendall Creek tract offers a rich cross-section of history in North America. Creek-Muscogee people called this area home, and archeological data link the tract to federal treaties with the Creek Nation during the Presidency of George Washington. An historic grist mill site and important settlement routes are also located here.

Students explored the project site with conservation professionals, ecologists, and archeologists; and met with community members in open-house forums sponsored by TNC, Fort Benning, and the City of Columbus’ Parks and Recreation Department. Representatives from U.S. Army, TNC, and the City of Columbus participated as partners to provide feedback to the students throughout the project. Carl Brown, a Creek-Muscogee cultural researcher from Emory University, was guest professor during a field trip to the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center in Fort Mitchell, Alabama, helping students delve into Creek-Muscogee culture, both living and historical.

In studying the concept of a regional park, students conducted field studies in Boston, Massachusetts. Students examined regional parks with storied roots in Native American culture and Early American history, including the Harbor Islands, Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, and the Boston Common and Public Gardens.

Students’ work helped deepen the conversation and partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the City of Columbus, and provided an important foundation for developing a new park model for Georgia. Resultant master plans proposed an overall strategy for the regional park, including branding, ecological preserve areas, and regional access routes. Students further explored their concept by preparing a site-specific design for a selected area within their proposed park. Each final design included physical models, master plans, and site plans.   

This studio experience fostered mutual respect across professions by providing an incubator for ecologists, archeologists, public officials, recreation managers, and landscape architects to collaborate effectively on a project. Student participants observed the trust-building process among diverse stakeholders and acquired a better understanding of the role administrators and scientists can play in the design process. Similarly, conservation professionals experienced collaborative stakeholder engagement and the design process typically employed by landscape architects, which helped to demonstrate how design can invite an experience in nature while protecting delicate natural systems. As project partners continue to consider the future of this protected land, the diverse collection of master plans generated by Auburn students during this studio will continue to inform the conversation of how to develop and manage a regional park that will benefit West Georgia communities and ensure a healthy longleaf pine ecosystem.

Professors Charlene LeBleu (chair, MLA program) and Elise Cormier (adjunct faculty) led the studio. Elise initially brought this studio to Auburn in 2013 while working at The Nature Conservancy in Georgia. At that time, she became acquainted with several Auburn MLA students while attending the 2013 ASLA conference and contacted Charlene LeBleu to develop the idea for an interactive studio experience that would couple traditional design instruction with student immersion into stakeholder engagement and cross-discipline collaboration. The collaborative studio concept was further developed in April 2014, and scheduled for implementation during Summer 2015 with Elise serving as adjunct faculty at Auburn University.