First week with Frederick at Fairsted

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Hello! I should start off my first blog post by re- introducing myself. My name is Shanasia Sylman and I am a recent graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering. I will start a Master of Landscape Architecture program at the other school in Cambridge in the Fall. I’m switching gears a little bit because I believe there is value in obtaining a quantitative and qualitative perspective.

I have no background or even remote experience in design, let alone landscape architecture, so I’ve been real eager to learn whatever it is the office can teach me. My first assignment this week was to read up on the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic (FRLA) Site, for which I would then aid Chris Beagan and my fellow intern Sasha B. in inventorying the large woody plant life in the newly acquired neighboring land (as well as update the current map for the original Fairsted property).

Any time I get to go out into the field, I am happy so this was a good week regardless. However, being able to learn about the father of American landscape architecture as well as walk and explore his own home was a great way to start off the internship; The perfect way to get inspired.

I experienced the site as a worker and a visitor. As a worker, I was able to better understand what it takes to make the site what it is today. There is a delicate balance between presentation and preservation. Allow me to elaborate:

When you visit the Olmsted home, (at least for me) you notice the nature more than the house. The surrounding environment was there before the house so why should the human intervention take away our attention from the naturally occurring beauty? The same applies for the Green Hill property (the newly acquired property), which is still underway. Talking to Mona, the gardener for the site, there is plenty of tree removal and management, brush removal, mowing and so on that needs to be accomplished so that the Green Hill property adds to the entire park experience. However, there is a variety of wildlife within the property (turkeys, cardinals, chipmunks and squirrels) that shouldn’t be forced out of their homes just for the sake of expanding the park experience. An astute management plan that improves the visual appeal of Green Hill while retaining its biodiversity, similar to what is achieved on the Fairsted property, is the end goal. From what I learned, Olmsted worked to avoid the overly manicured lawns and cookie-cutter planting patterns. We learn more from real experience, as I did this week with learning how to ID New England native trees. Much can be learned from and appreciated by the Green Hill property with the aid of some dedicated walking paths and well managed trees and shrubs, nothing more.

As a visitor, I was able to step back into the late 1800s/early 1900s; back to the early days of landscape architecture. The tour was exceptional and I learned plenty but the shining moment during my visiting time was seeing the Good Neighbors program. I had never even heard of landscape architecture until I was 20 years old, halfway through my engineering degree, but here were these elementary students in the Olmsted Barn designing their own parks to fit their clients’ requests. It may sound crazy but I was a little jealous. They may not realize it now but to get that exposure to park planning and design is priceless. A whole new avenue of passions and careers was opened up to them. It’s the perfect type of children’s workshop to have in the Olmsted residence; A successful way to illustrate what went on in the home long ago: the tools, the thoughts, the process.

I think everyone working in or on the FRLA site have the same admirable goal in mind: Make the experience as historically accurate; From the management of the plant life to the furniture in the home. Other than that, the site speaks for itself.

One response to “First week with Frederick at Fairsted

  1. Shanasia, I really enjoyed your insights and experience visiting Fairsted for the first time! It is a very special place and a perfect way to begin your exploration of the field of landscape architecture. The ability to balance preservation goals, visitor use, natural resource management, etc., is what makes our work so challenging and exciting.

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