RISD and URI Offer Joint Program on Coastal Sustainability

Responding to dramatic ecological, social, urban and climactic transformations occurring worldwide, the Landscape Architecture and Marine Affairs departments at RISD and the University of Rhode Island (URI), respectively, are addressing urgent problems through a joint graduate-level program set to launch in fall 2019. This unique initiative will prepare students to understand issues affecting coastal environments from a range of vantage points. Building on a strong record of cross-disciplinary collaboration between the two institutions, it will also expand Rhode Island’s growing reputation for advancing sustainability.

Beginning in their final year at RISD, graduate students in Landscape Architecture will take Marine Affairs courses at URI to enhance their design education with related expertise in social science, economics, policy, planning and law. After completing the program, they will earn two advanced degrees—a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) from RISD and a Master of Marine Affairs (MMA) from URI.

“We hope to curate a conversation around the changes occurring along our coasts.”
emily vogler, head of landscape architecture

“Increasingly, we need to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to complex environmental issues,” says Landscape Architecture Department Head Emily Vogler. Through the joint MLA/MMA program, she believes students and faculty in the department will deepen their commitment to coastal stewardship.

“Landscape Architecture has a long history of addressing coastal issues,” Vogler says, “both in Rhode Island and around the world.” In recent years the department has offered several courses focused on Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, including a collaborative studio (involving several regional colleges) in which students apply design thinking to issues of coastal deterioration. It is through that and other projects that former Department Head Scheri Fultineer (now interim associate provost and dean of Architecture and Design) began exploring a formal partnership between Landscape Architecture and URI—a significant step in extending the reach of RISD’s research agenda.

Austin Becker, who directs the graduate programs in Marine Affairs, is excited about how RISD students will influence research and teaching at URI. “Finding better ways to deliver information to experts, practitioners and the public is essential and visual communication is an important part of that,” he says, noting the positive impact two doctoral students with RISD backgrounds—José Menéndez MFA 17 GD and Peter Stempel BArch 93 (currently a provost fellow here)—have had on his own research.

“It’s a matter of saying: ‘Here’s an issue that’s extremely complex—so how do we work together to address it?’”

Becker is confident that Landscape Architecture students will gain valuable, timely knowledge for creating the best designs for coastal environments. “They will learn how to execute their vision within complex regulatory contexts,” he says. He and Vogler also anticipate that student research will inspire innovative collaborations between faculty in both departments.

“We hope to curate a conversation around the changes occurring along our coasts,” Vogler says, “and learn what the landscape architecture field can contribute to and gain from collaborating with people in allied professions. It’s a matter of saying: ‘Here’s an issue that’s extremely complex—so how do we work together to address it?’”

—Robert Albanese