Five Questions for: Landscape Architect Martha Schwartz

Martha Schwartz's Beiqijia
The Beiqijia Technology Business (BTB) District in Beijing, China, is a more than 14-acre site within a mixed-use development. It was designed to consider LEED Gold accreditation via efficient use of water, decreased paved surfaces and increased green ratio to reduce the urban heat island effect and accounted for the microclimate of each zone. Photograph by Terrance Zhang.

Who knew carbs could launch a career? Such was the case for landscape architect and artist Martha Schwartz, who in 1979 created an artfully irreverent installation using shellacked bagels and blue aquarium rocks to transform her Boston town home’s wild, overgrown backyard. She sent photos of her Bagel Garden creation into Landscape Architecture magazine. They put it on the cover. People hated it. People loved it. A year later she formed Martha Schwartz Partners, which now has offices in Shanghai, London, and New York.

Her firm’s work spans the globe, developing and improving sites in places such as Beijing’s mixed-use Beiqijia Technology Business District; the Place de la République in Paris; Sowwah Square in Abu Dhabi, UAE; and Dublin’s open public space Grand Canal Square.

Schwartz is serious about sustainability and climate change—she’s a tenured professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design in Landscape Architecture and works to highlight how design can aid in the mitigation of climate change. She’s also a founding member of the Working Group of Sustainable Cities at Harvard University, and a member of the Landscape Architecture Foundation Climate Change Task Force.

Martha Schwartz

How did you earn your first dollar?

I worked at an insurance company filing documents alphabetically. I cried every day after work.

GRAY attended your talk in Portland and you spoke a lot about the role landscape architecture has in climate change. Are there small steps that landscape architects can start to implement now to help combat this?

Yes, educate yourself. There are so many wonderful books to read and so much to learn. Now, given the amount and speed of new information, there is no centralized place to learn. It’s a DIY (do it yourself proposition). Buy Paul Hawkin’s book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. This is a wonderful, pragmatic book to what things we can do as professionals while learning the fundamentals of climate change.

Finish this sentence: The one thing I cannot live without is…

Very crisp bacon.

What has been your biggest challenge as a landscape architect?

Making money. Being a woman doing unconventional work is not the easiest row to hoe.

Bagel Garden by Martha Schwartz
Photograph by Alan Ward.

We have to ask, re: bagel garden: What’s your favorite bagel?

Poppyseed.

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