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Lauren Delbridge: Turning wastescapes into valued landscapes

2017 Landscape Architecture grad Lauren Delbridge recently won the nation’s top undergraduate prize and $15,000 from the Landscape Architecture Foundation.

Her senior thesis project to transform coal ash ponds into public ecological and educational resources earned a prestigious 2017 National Olmsted Scholar award. The Olmstead Scholar program is the premier national award program for landscape architecture students. It recognizes one undergraduate student and one graduate student nationally who are advancing sustainable design and fostering human and societal benefits.

Delbridge, now working as a landscape architecture designer at LandDesign in Charlotte, North Carolina, plans to use her prize money to visit transformed wastescapes around the world as an inspiration for addressing them in her future research and work.

Her project also won the Landscape Architecture Program’s Stanley Abbott Award for the top thesis from an alumni and faculty jury panel. Delbridge became interested in wastescapes during a studio with Visiting Assistant Professor Michael Ezban at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center in which students explored landfill redesign.



Delbridge celebrated graduation by visiting Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

What’s your hometown  Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Why did you choose Landscape Architecture at Virginia Tech?  I grew up assuming I would study architecture in college, but I discovered landscape architecture and was hooked on the diversity of work within the field and the ability to create spaces that every person can interact with. The LAR program at Virginia Tech stresses design but also a deep understanding of the site, and I knew the faculty would challenge me in my studies.

What led you to select coal ash pond remediation as the focus of your work?  I’ve become fascinated with projects that focus on both science and design and I knew that I wanted to find a big issue to approach through that lens. Being from North Carolina, I’ve seen the issues that coal ash ponds are currently causing and I immediately became interested. It is staggering to me that people are not thinking about the potential future for these wastescapes, and I think landscape architecture students and professionals are in a great position to have a say in designed remediation strategies that give back to the public.

What will you do with the $15,000 award?  I’m excited to spend the $15,000 award to travel to notable sites where disturbed lands have been successfully reclaimed or remediated. So, moving beyond coal ash ponds, I will visit sites that have been transformed and given future lives such as Latz+Partners’ transformation of Hiriya Landfill into Ariel Sharon Park outside Tel Aviv, Israel. By visiting sites of this nature, I will begin compiling a collection of case studies that can be used as an educational tool, a public resource, and a foundation for further design research for the transformation of disturbed lands.

What’s next for you after graduating?  I’ll be working at LandDesign in Charlotte, North Carolina, starting in June after my graduation. I was able to spend the previous summer as a LandDesign intern and I’m thrilled to return.

What are your future goals?  I have always been interested in working within an urban environment, so I plan to work in cities where landscape architecture is valuable to the public experience.  I also would like to continue learning, studying, and getting involved with issues of remediation and reclamation. I believe landscape architects have the skills needed to think about the future of these wastescapes, so it is important for me to continue seeking out ways to stay involved. At this point, I’ll keep pushing the importance of transforming disturbed lands and we’ll see where that takes me.

What does the Olmstead Award mean to you?  This award is such an honor to receive, especially when it is dealing with my senior project about the remediation of a coal ash pond. I’ve been excited about my project for the entire year and it’s validating to see that others are excited about it too. I think it is an excellent testament to the diversity of work within landscape architecture to receive an award that acknowledges the importance of disturbed land remediation. I’m looking forward to helping lead the profession in that direction.

What other experiences as a student in VT’s LAR program have been particularly meaningful for you?  I actually developed an interest in disturbed lands through a studio with Michael Ezban at the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center during my fourth year. Being able to study the redesign of a landfill opened my eyes to the waste landscapes that cover our nation and world. I was also able to spend time traveling with my coal ash pond remediation work and presenting at various research symposiums and conferences over the last few months. The most influential research opportunities were participating in the Meeting of the Minds at Duke University and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Memphis. Discussing my work with students and faculty from various fields and studies gave me great feedback from multiple angles and backgrounds. I was also selected as the Stanley Abbott Award winner for my senior project, which again was exciting to see others appreciate the nature of my project and get excited about the remediation of a coal ash pond.