In Profile: Richard Weller

Richard Weller Talks With Street Furniture

Richard Weller is the Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism and Professor and Chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

He is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Western Australia, former Director of the Australian Urban Design Research Centre (AUDRC), and is currently Creative Director of the Not in my Backyard: 2016 International Festival of Landscape Architecture.

Please, tell us about yourself. What drew you to landscape architecture? And academia?

My father was German born in Palestine – my mother in Manly, Sydney. The British arrested the Germans in 1942 and sent them to Australia – they had started what is now the city of Tel Aviv.

They were put in a camp for seven years in Victoria and when they got out they became farmers on the Hawkesbury and in the Blue Mountains – so for my formative years I had family in the west and on the coast.

This was a strong landscape experience on both fronts.

Do you miss Australia? Differences between landscape architecture in Australia and the US?

I’ve lived away from Australia before and never miss it. I’m too deeply engaged with what I’m doing at any given moment to be homesick or nostalgic.

The differences are not great in practice but academia is very different. Many say Penn is the best school in the world (some would say Harvard) and so it’s a great experience to be leading such a school.

How do you see the future of landscape architecture? How will technology make an impact?

Technology will make an impact, as it always does, but it’s often just more data telling us what we already know … I see a lot of younger designers cheerleading for it as if an app will fix all our problems. The world is too complex for that and a good designer with a good brain is always way ahead of technology.

In your view, what is the role of street furniture in the public realm?

Laurie Olin always says the most important thing is to find a good place to sit down. I guess we can add to that a place to throw your rubbish, power up your phone, have a nap and socialise.

Street furniture is important because our cities are becoming more dense and the street is the new backyard. Much design I see is increasingly about people lounging in public space, not just waiting for the bus.

Why did you decide to take on the curatorship? What do you aim to achieve with the festival?

It was a nice creative challenge and I want to try and set up some conversations that will help the attendees chart their own career pathways as we move into increasingly complicated times.

Why should people attend the International Festival of Landscape Architecture?

It’s an historic occasion. It’s got great speakers across a range of all the issues that are essential to think about for anyone engaged in the future of the built environment and the broader landscape. It has exciting social events and fringe activities. And everyone wants to try and get into something that is SOLD OUT!


The Garden of Australian Dreams, National Museum of Australia

Weller is co-designer of the Garden of Australian Dreams at the National Museum of Australia, venue for the Festival Opening Party and AnthropoScene short film screening. Photo: John O’Neill

In Profile is a Q&A series featuring Australian influencers of the public realm.

Interviewees are players in the public sphere with compelling stories, not always landscape architects or affiliated with SFA. 

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