On October 10, Thomas Woltz presented Abundant Systems: Working Landscapes from the City to the Farm as part of the Fall 2011 Stanley White Lecture Series. Woltz is partner of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW), where he has worked since 1997. This celebrated 30-person firm, based in Charlottesville, Virginia and New York City, has received over 70 national and regional awards for a variety of public and private projects. For the past 14 years, Woltz also has taught part-time at the University of Virginia, the same school where he received Masters degrees in both Architecture (1996) and Landscape Architecture (1997), and a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture (1990).
Woltz’s lecture focused on a variety of his design projects, notably work from NBW’s innovative Conservation Agriculture Studio, a group of projects that share information and integrate sustainable agriculture with best management practices for the conservation of wildlife and natural resources. Woltz discussed his firm’s mission to work towards the restoration of natural systems including rain forest, natural prairielands, and other regionally specific ecological systems.
Many of the firm’s projects embody Woltz’s advice to “look beyond boundary lines and consider the larger systems at work within a site.” One of the Conservation Agriculture Studio projects, the Seven Ponds Farm, was started in 1999 and is located on a privately owned 150-acre cattle farm. This project has focused on creating a bio-diverse landscape in order to support as many native plant and animal species as possible. During this process, adjacent neighbors have learned about the project and joined in the effort, ultimately establishing 2,200 contiguous acres dedicated to the goal of renewing the agrarian landscape and watershed restoration. NBW has also undertaken the largest ecological restoration in New Zealand, known as the Orongo Station Conservation, repairing damaged ecosystems through wetland restoration and reforestation for a 3,000-acre coastal area.
Throughout the lecture, Woltz emphasized the importance of various partnerships, formed during the life of these projects, which have brought scientists, ecologists, and designers together in productive ways. He sees collaboration as necessary part of a healthy design process and draws inspiration from working with other landscape architects, architects, scientists, and ecologists. He encourages designers to seek out different partnerships to create a rich dialogue throughout the design process. In closing, Woltz invited the audience to “build a covenant between yourself and the land that you work on, embrace the people, the living things, and the history and find ways to excavate all those layers and tell your own personal story.”