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Q+A: Wild at Heart

(August 2016) posted on Thu Aug 04, 2016

Margie Ruddick plants the seeds of a new era in landscape design by envisioning hospitality spaces cloaked in a forested surround and living furniture.

By Matthew Hall

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Publishing’s loss is landscape design’s gain. An English lit major at Bowdoin College, Margie Ruddick’s first job after graduating was with Basic Books, a New York-based publisher whose works focus on the social sciences, history and public policy. But while it didn’t take long for her to realize that wasn’t her life’s calling, the job did open her eyes to the occupation that would.

Landscape design surrounds lunar landing sculpturee

Ruddick says the client’s unexpected addition of Spencer Finch’s “Lunar Lander” environmental art piece at the front of a villa overlooking Florida’s Biscayne Bay caused her to add some Bismarck palms to the adjoining landscape to bring the piece down to scale. Photo: Courtesy of Scott Francis

“I also studied architecture at Bowdoin, but didn’t want to be an architect,” recalls Ruddick. “I went into publishing, not knowing what I wanted to do long term. That changed when we published a book called ‘Common Landscape of America, 1580 to 1845,’ by John Stilgoe, who teaches landscape architecture at Harvard. I read it and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ I quit my job and went to work on the Central Park Conservancy’s horticulture crew, doing the restoration of the park’s understory, and applied to Harvard the next year.”

She subsequently graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design with a master’s degree in landscape architecture. And the rest, as they say, is history: Ruddick quickly established her reputation as a creator of innovative, eco-friendly landscapes that intricately interact with the built environment.

She’s done that work on a global stage. Her homegrown projects include the design of New York’s Queens Plaza, which won awards for promoting the then-radical notion that nature-driven design should be an integral element in urban planning, and the design of a new waterfront for the Staten Island’s Stapleton area, which brings the harbor and city together in a park featuring a cove and tidal wetlands. Her international projects include the Shillim Institute and Retreat in Maharashtra, India, whose design helps it accommodate both intense droughts in the summers and seasonal monsoons; and the Living Water Park in Chengdu, China, that country’s first ecological park.


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