Catherine Seavitt’s transdisciplinary approach to landscape architecture

The Weitzman School’s chair of Landscape Architecture discusses her influences and inspirations on her work as an architect and landscape architect.

One of the most admired scholar-practitioners of her generation, Catherine Seavitt is professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism, co-executive director of The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism & Ecology, and creative director of LA+, the Weitzman School’s interdisciplinary journal of landscape architecture.

Catherine Seavitt.
Catherine Seavitt, professor and chair of Landscape Architecture at the Weitzman School.

Seavitt joined Penn in July of 2023, after more than a decade on the faculty at the City College of New York, where she served as professor and director of the Master of Landscape Architecture program. In her research she examines the role of landscape architects as significant participants at the intersection of political power, environmental advocacy, and equitable public space.

Seavitt is licensed in both architecture and landscape architecture, and also has experience with large-scale planning projects, a transdisciplinary background that shaped her approach to design. “Landscape architectural training provides a systemic approach to thinking about the world and our place in it, along with all of the other co-creative living and nonliving things that are part of the planet and with whom we are entangled,” Seavitt says. “There’s something amazing about the elasticity of scale that landscape architecture brings to the fore. And because the discipline is so embedded in the natural sciences, we also get the ‘messy’ biology and ‘messy’ ecology of things that are indeterminate, that don’t last forever, that have lifespans, that come and go, that are seasonal, that have the concept of time embedded in them. It’s tricky to wrap your head around something that is impermanent when you think about being a designer. There’s no finality to any of the work that a landscape architect will do. It’s all about suspension in a state of ongoing becoming.”

As a professor, Seavitt enjoys learning why her students are drawn to this particular field of study, and looks to empower them to embrace their passion. “I’m thinking about what a student brings with them, of the unique embodied knowledge that they have through their own life experiences, and I try to figure out why they have chosen to come to this particular and nontraditional field of study,” she says. “I’m also really interested in radical pedagogies, in the processes of engaging students in collaborative and active learning environments, in field-based learning. Education is not just about imparting wisdom—it can embrace critical ways of co-learning and co-creating, creating trust, and giving students and our graduates the power to take the discipline into new directions.”

Read more at Weitzman News.