Landscape Architect Kate Orff has become the first person in her profession to become a McArthur Fellow, a distinction granted by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The annual award, commonly referred to as a 'genius grant,' carries a monetary gift of $625,000, and honors outstanding creative accomplishments in disparate fields—ranging from mathematics to history, journalism to psychology. Orff, who heads the Manhattan-based firm, SCAPE, is one of two dozen 2017 McArthur Fellowship recipients, and the first landscape architect to be so feted, putting her in a rare position of prominence within a little-understood, but ecologically crucial, job function.
Ecology remains the driving force behind the work of SCAPE, a practice which focuses primarily on the unique challenges of the urban landscape, and which applies boths social and environmental sensitivity to a projects ultimately lauded for their aesthetic value. "We have, intentionally or not, built the American landscape as a massive consumption machine for petrochemicals," she says, a depressing truth illustrated in fertilizer-hungry suburban lawns and the greenhouse gas-emitting McMansions that demand them. To that end, Orff's projects incorporate a holistic approach that treads lightly on the landscape—a philosophy given added resonance by the increasingly dire effects of environmental degradation and climate change.