Renowned architect to speak at SUNY-ESF about creating natural landscapes

Kali Bowden | Staff Photographer

Hilderbrand is a Class of 1979 graduate of SUNY-ESF's landscape architecture program.

Gary Hilderbrand, a landscape architect renowned for his ability to create natural landscapes, is coming to SUNY-ESF for the annual Stuart Appel Memorial Lecture.

Reed Hilderbrand, the firm he founded with Douglas Reed, is known for shaping the physical world to reflect unique local characteristics.

The lecture, which is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the Gateway Center, is titled “Visible|Invisible” and will offer students the opportunity to hear the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry alumnus talk about his work.

A Class of 1979 graduate of SUNY-ESF’s landscape architecture program, Hilderbrand has helped lead his firm to win more than 80 awards, including the American Society of Landscape Architecture 2013 Firm of the Year.

Described by SUNY-ESF professors as approachable, accessible and a great teacher and speaker, Hilderbrand will likely include lots of visuals and photographs in his lecture. This will allow students to catch a glimpse of the “elegance” of Reed Hilderbrand’s landscapes, said Douglas Johnston, chair of SUNY-ESF’s Department of Landscape Architecture.

The firm’s work is the opposite of “in your face,” Johnston said.

His designs focus on “revealing and imagining things that haven’t been obvious, or things that have become obscured over time,” Hilderbrand said in an email.

Reed Hilderbrand’s landscapes are designed to make the invisible — the past, the buried, even the future — visible.

His landscapes are also designed to accelerate nature’s positive effects. Richard Hawks, a distinguished service professor at SUNY-ESF, said this entails “creating designed ecologies — setting in motion and releasing ecological systems to do their work.”

Hilderbrand said there’s a growing amount of research demonstrating the positive effects of nature on human well-being. This means that by being “locally invested” and connecting with natural forces such as pollination, sun, wind and seasonal changes, designers can shape landscapes to the benefit of people and the planet.

That is what Reed Hilderbrand aimed to do with one of its projects, Long Dock Park on the Hudson River. The park adapts to forces like the estuary’s tides and the impacts of climate change.

Hilderbrand said he strives to increase environmental awareness, shaping people’s behavior by giving order to everyday objects in a landscape.

Hawks said this is something students at SUNY-ESF may resonate with. The college’s landscape architecture program is about imagining alternative futures and helping communities envision more resilient landscapes aligning with social, biological and physical forces, he said.

Hilderbrand said he believes this ideal gives landscape architects the power to transform and adapt landscapes, allowing them to “grow and thrive in ways we might not always predict.”

He said the example of Long Dock Park could help SUNY-ESF students employ this power by creating landscapes that mature and adapt to changing conditions of use and climate.

Landscape architecture, Hawks said, is “not about arranging flowers. … It’s about shaping the environment,” to achieve a number of goals. Those goals include conserving biodiversity, creating a peaceful atmosphere and highlighting cultural artifacts.

“You live in an environment — you are shaped by it and it shapes you,” Hawks said.


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