Art With A Purpose


MARKING THE BEGINNING of an ongoing effort by the community to revitalize Druid Heights, Baltimore, with AGNR as a driving force, two landscape architecture students left the studio and immersed themselves in a community effort to design a new park to replace urban blight. Archway Park not only serves as a functional piece of art and welcome mat to Druid Heights, but plays an important ecological role, highlighting all native plants that promote pollinator health and making stormwater management a central design feature, all while celebrating the  history of the community.

As part of a partnership between Byoung-Suk Kweon, associate professor in Landscape Architecture, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, AGNR students Ryan Young and Mia Manning led the project from design to construction. As Young describes it, an undergraduate in the Landscape Architecture program planning to graduate in Spring 2021, “This work was as community driven as we could make it. We really wanted it to be their park, and we were just helping facilitate.”

Young and Manning started this work as a class project for the LARC240 studio class with Kweon. The class presented their designs to the community for input, and Young and Manning’s designs were chosen to create the final design for Archway Park. The two worked together to combine their designs and gather additional community feedback as part of a summer and fall semester internship following the class, and Young stayed on one more semester to see the project through to completion. “The contractors built using our drawings, which was both terrifying and amazing,” said Young. “It was a great learning opportunity to get such real-life experience with all the hands-on elements.”

“This was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” said Manning, a new graduate of the Landscape Architecture program (Spring 2020). “The most important thing I learned is that, although we are students of landscape architecture, the true experts on the spaces we architect are the communities themselves. There is always more to learn from the people that fight for and shape their communities, and it’s a privilege to gain even a fraction of insight into that process of community building.”

With that in mind, Manning made a point of incorporating the history of the Druid Heights community into the design by including banners on prominent residents of the neighborhood from Eubie Blake to Cab Calloway. “Druid Heights has a strength of identity and rich history that I felt should be highlighted and celebrated, so I brought historical and cultural context with my design,” said Manning. “There is pain and injustice in the community’s history, but there is also joy that I thought should be remembered.”

Young’s design focused on ecology and stormwater management, which are also featured on educational banners in the park. As a design feature, Archway Park is graded so that when it is raining, you can sit under the covered pergola and watch the water being guided down the path and into a drain that carries it around and underneath you, eventually swirling into a rain garden to infiltrate the water and feed the native plant life.

“The idea was that the more people who are aware of stormwater management and start thinking about where stormwater goes, the more people will actually care about this as an issue and be more open to projects that try to address it,” said Young. The opening ceremony for the park was combined with a community beautification day, and both Young and Manning were in attendance. “It was really fun to have people come out and be sitting in our park on the benches that we placed surrounded by bushes that we had chosen,” said Young.

“It's not just art, it’s art with a purpose. That’s what has been so cool about landscape architecture is that it combines all these things like science, ecology, the environment, art, and creativity and brings them together into one discipline that can physically change the world. You can use it to improve people’s lives and try to make the world a better place.”

Ryan Young Landscape Architecture Student