Michelle Armour: Discovering the Art of Landscape Architecture

Michelle Armour: Discovering the Art of Landscape Architecture

Michelle Armour knows a little something about creating art. She also knows about healing and restoration.

For the Tyler School of Art and Architecture and Temple Ambler graduate, Landscape Architecture was the perfect marriage of both, richly combined with science, sustainable and environmental action, and working directly with communities to initiate change.

“I went to Temple for one semester after graduating high school but really didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I took a break from college. Before I came back to Temple Ambler, I was a professional massage therapist for about 7 years,” said Armour, who graduated with her degree in Landscape Architecture in May. “I taught yoga and was a musician and singer with several groups. On groups is called the Primaries — three women in different colors; red, yellow and blue; sometimes we have guest performers called the 'Complimentaries' in orange, purple and even platinum.”

The performances, Armour said, ran through a broad swath of the musical spectrum, from pop and R&B to soul, dance and a bit of country.

“It was about pushing ourselves musically and moving past our comfort zones. I think that desire to learn and to grow has continued into every aspect of my life,” she said. “The thing that drew me to landscape architecture was the fact that it seemed to be at the intersection of so many of my interests. It involves art and design, environmentalism, people and communities, health and well-being. All of these things really appealed to me.”

When she was ready to return to the classroom, Temple was a foregone conclusion, she said.

“I’ve loved Temple since I was a child. My favorite teacher wore a Temple T sweatshirt on sweatshirt day in fourth grade,” she said. “The school is close to home; the financial aid was on point and Tyler’s landscape architecture program at Temple Ambler really spoke to me. It focuses a little more on the horticultural side than other programs do, which definitely drew me to Temple.”

One of the primary things that makes Tyler’s Landscape Architecture program unique is “the intimate community that’s here,” Armour said.

“You get to know people — classmates, faculty, staff — really well. We also had the opportunity to work on projects with real-world clients,” she said. “There was a neighborhood planning project that our class did in Kensington. There was a public square/public plaza train station project that we worked on in Narberth. Our senior project was a design for a playground and recreation center in Olney, Philadelphia.”

What each of these real-world experiences provided Armour “was the opportunity to connect with people in the communities that we were designing for, to get their feedback, to interview them to get an understanding of what they wanted to see in their neighborhoods, and also to just engage with them and get that educational experience,” she said.

Armour was also part of the team of students that created Temple Amber’s award-winning 2019 Philadelphia Flower exhibit Hip Haven: Hangin’ Loose at a Home Refuge. The exhibit won a PHS Gold Medal, awarded to a major exhibit that receives 95 or more points out of 100 in the criteria of design, horticulture, plantsmanship and educational value; the Bulkley Medal of the Garden Club of America, a PHS Gold Medal Plant Award, a Special Achievement Award of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania, and a PHS Sustainability Award.

“My time working on the 2019 Philadelphia Flower Show was a really valuable experience. It was the first time the class had the opportunity to design something and then see it through to implementation, to build our design,” she said. “We started from scratch with rough sketches and went on to actually build it on campus and then again at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. We got to show off our work to the world — people come internationally to the Philadelphia Flower Show.”

Seeing people walk through the exhibit, appreciating it and providing the students excellent feedback on all of their hard work “really was gratifying,” Armour said.

“Professionally, it gave me great experience with trial and error, mocking up designs before building them to scale to see if they work, and also going from 2-D to 3-D to actual physical objects rather than just on paper, learning some of the challenges that come with that,” she said. “I hope visitors were inspired to be creative and feel free to be playful in designing their own gardens and living spaces. You need spaces where you can simply recharge and get away, at least for a little while, from all of the things that demand our attention every day.”

While at Temple, Armour was able to experience the working world firsthand through a series of internships.

“The first one was at Orsatti & Stuart Associates in King of Prussia — Patrick Stuart is an alumnus of Temple Ambler who also received his graduate degree in the Planning program at Temple. I got a lot of experience working in a small office alongside professionals, and the workflow involved,” she said. “I also interned with Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers, a volunteer-based ecological restoration organization in Philadelphia. I led work crews in removing invasive species and planting trees, in addition to reaching out to potential volunteer organizations or groups that wanted to come out and help in Wissahickon Valley Park. That gave me some good leadership experience as well as hands-on time in the park, which felt really good.”

Armour didn’t shy away from taking on leadership roles as an integral part of the Temple Ambler Community. She was one of the founding members and Vice President of Temple Ambler’s former Contemplative Meditation Club. She was Treasurer the Temple Ambler American Society of Landscape Architecture student chapter in 2019 and Co-President in 2020.

“It was important to me to be involved in these things because it’s helpful to have activities outside of your academics to keep you connected with your community,” she said. “Building relationships and creating experiential opportunities is an essential part of your experience at Temple. It’s a great opportunity that anyone should take advantage of on campus.”

Armour spread her wings even further in her senior year, studying abroad at Temple Rome during the fall 2019 semester.

“From the beginning of my time at Temple, I knew I wanted to study abroad. During the fall semester of your senior year as a landscape architecture major, it’s basically built in that if you are going to study abroad it will be in Rome,” she said. “I had never been to Europe so I thought this was a great opportunity to dive in, experience another culture and truly see what life is like in another part of the world.”

Armour said she lived in the residence hall at Temple Rome “and made great friends from around the world while I was there that I’m still in touch with.”

“I got to see what landscape architecture is like in Italy, which is a little different from here — they don’t really separate architecture, landscape architecture and interior design as much as we do,” she said. “Overall, I got to experience a new country, see beautiful landscapes and see gardens in person that I had studied in my freshman year. Overall, it was a great experience; a real semester of growth for me personally as well as academically.”

Armour said her goal upon graduation was to use her skills at a landscape architecture firm specializing in ecological restoration and urban planning design. She will soon begin that next step in her professional journey at Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, a planning and design firm in Norristown committed to creating an ecologically enduring society.

“I will be working remotely for the first month or two due to current circumstances, but I’m really excited to dive into my new job. Working in ecological restoration and environmental design, there is a great deal of potential to make a positive impact on communities,” she said. “More and more people are living in urban areas. I want to explore ways to design cities that are sustainable and ecologically responsible, that support health and wellness. We make huge impacts on our environment — we need to make conscious decisions to bring about change.”

Beyond her new role at Simone Collins, Armour plans to continue to be involved in the Pennsylvania-Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and help with initiatives that they have in the region and nationally.

“I plan to continue networking with people in the field and learning and growing. I also plan to spend a lot more time with my friends and family and my pets, who have all been so supportive during my time at school,” she said. “My time at Temple has prepared me for the real world because I’ve gotten opportunities to be in leadership roles, which I hope to continue to do in the future as a professional. I’ve engaged with several different communities in Philadelphia and learned how to communicate with different constituencies — I’ve learned how to conduct myself like a professional, building relationships with professors and classmates and individuals in the field during my internships.”

To anyone just starting on the journey, “I would say definitely take advantage of the resources that the school provides.”

“Make strong connections with your professors and recognize that they are there for you —they are passionate about what they do and they are passionate about sharing that with you. They want to help you become the professional that you want to be,” she said. “Definitely take advantage of opportunities to get to know other people outside of class through different activities on campus; find a club that speaks to what you are passionate about, whether it related to your major or not. Get involved, keep busy, but also take care of yourself — take the time that you need to get proper sleep, eat well, get outside and take walks. Immerse yourself in the community and take advantage of the support that’s there for you.”