Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, Dean and Professor of Landscape Architecture
Dean Nancy Pollock-Ellwand joined CAPLA in September 2017. Learn more about her in this Q&A from September 2020 (and read her thought leadership piece on cultural heritage from March 2021: "From Hedgerows on the Prairie to Footsteps on the Moon: A World Heritage Site Evaluator's Journey"):
Why did you choose to join the University of Arizona?
This is a great opportunity to lead a remarkable college of faculty, staff and students dedicated to innovation in the built environment, situated within a powerful multidisciplinary setting in a part of the world that is highly distinctive climatically, environmentally, culturally and socially. I also feel well-supported here in trying new ideas, allowing me to exert my own creativity in the role of an academic administrator.
What do you enjoy most about serving as dean of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture?
I enjoy the interaction with all the members of CAPLA, from the students and staff to the alumni and faculty—hearing the remarkable stories of their accomplishments and sharing them with each other, the University of Arizona and beyond. I get the greatest pleasure and pride from my CAPLA compatriots' success and their joy of achievement.
What are some of the challenges and rewards of serving as dean?
The challenges and rewards are associated with leading one of the university's smaller colleges. It is my responsibility to advocate for the design and planning professions both within UArizona and the broader community, so that the power and the potential of the built environment fields are better understood as to their impact and contributions to our collective wellness, as well as community vibrancy, resilience and equity. The reward is when collaborations are formed because the participants understand that the built environment has great impact on all aspects of our lives. Truly creative results come from these disciplinary intersections that would never have come about if we all remained in our professional and disciplinary territories. It takes courage for people to leave the comforts of their own field to share differing perspectives on complex problems. The hope being that this will lead to unforeseen and impactful innovations in the built environment.
What's one exciting thing happening in CAPLA right now that people should know about?
So much to share—everything from the growth of our online offerings in the Master of Real Estate Development program and the popularity of our sustainable built environments courses at the UPC (Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas) microcampus in Lima, Peru, to our launch of the new Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, and new joint studios at a foundational year where students can now work across the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture.
Perhaps most meaningful for us this summer were the discussions we held with faculty, staff, students and alumni around the important issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. Our year just kicked off with a college retreat where experts in equity, diversity and inclusion and the built environment, and the academy, joined us for further discussions. The intent was made to develop actions for the college that will advance our culture of equity, diversity and inclusion in the coming weeks, months and years.
What is your leadership philosophy?
It is an honor to be able to help individuals and the collective realize their ambitions, be it directly or by association—whether it is a young faculty member obtaining tenure, professional development of a staff member, a student eloquently defending their capstone project to an assembled group of visiting critics, an individual assuming greater leadership responsibilities, a research network forming around a grassroots research initiative, or experimenting with a new pedagogical approach. This comes through advocacy for the college and finding ways to provide sustained support to its individual members, collaboration with other segments of the university, professions and broader community, communications, communications, communications, and an embrace of shared governance. My philosophy is thus people-centric, using the resources that I have some influence over to advance their scholarship and work lives as well as their ambitions and personal development.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I walked across England three years ago along The Wainwright Way—a coast-to-coast, 182-mile walk that my feet are still recovering from. Every day brought extraordinarily beautiful scenery, another pub lunch, and more friendships made with fellow travelers along the trail. I am now doing a virtual walk of the Camino de Santiago, just passing Pamplona!
What are some of your hobbies?
I love to cook and, of course, eat! This necessitates being active, so I am a master's swimmer—when we finally get access to the pool. I also walk Sentinel Peak and I ride the Loop.
How do you envision the role of CAPLA in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
We have embraced the Fourth Industrial Revolution in our commitment and involvement with Building a Changing World, which is related to the Grand Challenges pillar in the university's strategic plan. This represents a commitment to addressing the need for foundational knowledge in the built environment for decision-makers, industry and the professions. Our college sees ourselves as being one of the leaders of that focus on built environment, research and innovation. This has resulted in a unique research effort—led by our associate dean of research, Barbara Bryson—which is a pan-university consortium that is called RESTRUCT. It has now held workshops and symposia with the aim of fostering the multidisciplinary research networks that now include industry partners.
Your research involves the history of cultural landscapes. Can you define cultural landscapes and tell us why their history interests you?
There are many varied definitions but the one I most frequently use is the one used by UNESCO, which says, "cultural landscapes are cultural properties that represent the 'combined works of nature and man'.... They are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal."
What fascinates me about this field is the fact that I have seen an evolution of the underlying philosophy for heritage conservation over the years of my involvement as an educator, practitioner, researcher and adviser. Its origins are found in historic sites restored to an exact moment in time centered on architecture, and not the landscape. Over my career, the consideration of these historic places has evolved into seeing them as "cultural landscapes," a much richer and nuanced construct that includes four categories of landscape: designed, like the gardens at Schönbrunn Palace in Austria; relics, like the standing stones of Rapa Nui, Chile; a continuing landscape, like the rice terraces of Honghe Hani, China; or a purely associative one with no tangible built resources, such as Australia's Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
A cultural landscape is where layers of human interaction with the place exist simultaneously. It is a site that may possess both tangible resources as well as intangible associations that have the potential to embody a community's identity—their past as well as future. They serve as lessons in sustainability, having survived to the present day, and embody the values that were fundamental to the survival of a society in that environment. These landscapes are powerful connectors to the continuity of language, the sovereignty of indigenous peoples and the protection of rights in ongoing management using traditional knowledge.
You've taught in Canada, Australia and Japan. What does a country's architecture say about its people?
I would broaden the question to say, "What does the built environment say about its people?" Each country has different design traditions and expressions that derive from its individual history, climate, environments and associated cultures. The key is to understand what in fact is universal in design and planning and what needs to be specific to the place where you are teaching, researching and practicing.
What does the university's architecture say about the campus?
I read the University of Arizona as an oasis in the desert. Of course, the green lawns can be criticized for the water use they necessitate to be maintained. However, I must say that the green expanse of the Mall leading up to Old Main is a relief to my senses, overheated on a plus 100-degree day, and serves to mitigate against the heat islands in the surrounding neighborhoods. But I also find solace in the many little hidden spaces one can find as you walk around the campus. They are a delight and perhaps more in keeping with the design tradition in hotter environments to cluster buildings to provide needed shade and protection from hot, drying winds. I also commend the university for creating iconic buildings—many of which were included on the tour provided during my job interview. It did the trick! I am now celebrating my third-year anniversary in Tucson, having traveled from the University of Calgary, where I served as the dean of the faculty of environmental design—now the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape—for seven years, and before that head and chair at the University of Adelaide's School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design in South Australia.
You co-chair the panel that evaluates nominations for new UNESCO World Heritage Sites. What's it like to have a voice in deciding something like that?
It is a great honor to serve as co-chair of the evaluation panel, which makes recommendations on new World Heritage Sites to the World Heritage Committee. This panel is comprised of experts from a multiplicity of fields, from art conservators and archaeologists to lawyers, historians and architects. They come from all over the world and, at last count, well over 10 languages were spoken, but English and French are the official languages. They are drawn together by the cultural advisory committee to UNESCO, called the International Council on Monuments and Sites. As a result, I feel in my element in this multidisciplinary situation—the only context in which we can work to consider such a diverse group of nominations from around the world.
Buildings, to many people, are no more than places to work, play, sleep, learn and live. What are some of the less apparent ways that the built environment affects the average person's daily life?
The fact that the built environment is so ubiquitous is the reason why it is not always seen, understood or valued. This brings me full circle to the design advocacy I mentioned earlier. So, yes, buildings, and landscapes for that matter, are part of our daily life and we don't necessarily notice them day to day. We become aware of them, however, on different occasions, both positive and negative, such as when they do not serve our needs, like an unshaded bus stop, a slippery walk to a storefront, or an unsafe trail to hike. We also notice our built environments when a view of the setting sun is framed through a window, a stroll through a garden lowers our blood pressure, or you are less tired at midday because the air handling unit has kept the carbon dioxide levels lower in your office. There are so many ways the built environment affects your health, your safety, your interactions with other people, your efficient movement through a city, and so on and so on. This is the stuff of our many different degrees of study in the college.
Tell us about your favorite building or landscape in Southern Arizona.
I must say that I am a bit of a homer when asked this question; the CAPLA building with the adjacent Underwood Garden at the east entrance is a remarkable place in its conception and execution, drawing people to it as a true oasis in the desert. While at CAPLA, also check out the extraordinary Sonoran Pentapus dome on the west side of the building. These places are some of my favorites, but I also must mention my 1927 Mission Revival-style house in Sam Hughes that my husband and I are now lovingly restoring. A work in progress for sure—which is where all the fun lies!