This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

Presentation Video and Transcript

By Margie Coffin Brown


This presentation will examine the formative experiences and design philosophies of early National Park Service visionaries, and propose a framework for enabling formative experiences for the next generation of park designers and planners, with the broad goal of addressing relevancy, diversity, and inclusion.

The first third of the presentation will examine the formative experiences and design philosophies of noted landscape architects: Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of Landscape Architecture; Charles Eliot, a young luminary in the area of land protection and regional planning; Daniel Ray Hull, the pioneer of rustic design principles; Thomas Chalmers Vint, head of the NPS Landscape Architecture Division, and Norman Newton, NPS Northeast Region Resident Landscape Architect. Key contributions to park design will be highlighted (and revisited in the third part of the presentation) at Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area (Olmsted), Acadia National Park (Eliot, Hull, Vint), and Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Newton).

The second third of the presentation will focus on our parks and culture at present. Specifically, the NPS goal to create a mosaic of experiences that are respectful of relevancy, diversity, and inclusion–and how this goal is addressed in the millennial initiative known as the ‘Designing the Parks’ program. The presentation will briefly outline the principles of the ‘Designing the Park’ initiative and how young people from diverse backgrounds have been engaged in solving park design and treatment issues.

The third component of the presentation will highlight case studies from the field, where young designers have had “ah-ha” formative moments and experiences in parks, and been given the opportunity to develop design solutions. The presentation will highlight ‘Designing the Parks’ case studies where students have successfully shaped their physical environment in public spaces as a direct result of their formative experiences in parks. Specific examples will be highlighted from the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, Acadia National Park, and Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The presentation will also highlight successful career stories that align with Secretary’ Jewell’s “Play-Learn-Serve-Work” Initiative and the Olmsted Center’s framework of exploring “Visionary-Experiential-Practical Opportunities.”

The presentation will be supported by PowerPoint slides and video clips that highlight the experiences and design tools of the ‘Designing the Parks’ teams. The young professionals that will be highlighted in the presentation are featured in a blog ( Specific tools include SketchUp 3-D Modeling, GIS, CAD, Adobe Design Suite including Adobe After Effects Video Animations, and writing ideas and assembling images through weekly blogging. Issues addressed by students include site enhancements to improve visitor experience, incorporating new materials into rehabilitation treatments, and responding to climate change. The presentation will pair quotes by the early rustic designers with quotes from the ‘Designing the Parks’ team on issues related to the preservation of park built features. The case studies the accomplishments and recognition earned by the students through their engagement in the program.

In summary, the presentation will highlight how our demographics and tools of the trade have changed, but the importance of formative experiences and risk taking are still at the core of our park designs.


Margie Coffin Brown is a Senior Project Manager and Historical Landscape Architect at the National Park Service Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation. She has authored and co-authored numerous cultural landscape reports for nationally-significant properties in the Northeast, including reports for the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area, Acadia National Park, and Salem Maritime National Historic Site. She holds a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University and a Bachelors degree in Plant Science from Cornell University. She has co-coordinated the ‘Designing the Parks’ program at the Olmsted Center for three years.


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