Sam Emory: Designing a Sustainable Future
Sam Emory, (AIA | Student ASLA | LEED AP BD+C), graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLArch) degree from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture.
James F. Duffy

There is something about the Ambler Arboretum of Temple University that recent graduate Sam Emory loves that other people might not readily think about.

"I love labels on trees — I'm always curious about what I'm looking at — they are a genius invention. The way that the landscape on campus has been shaped to tell ecological stories — the wetland garden, the healing garden, the winter garden, the native plant garden — there is so much care put into creating and maintaining these learning spaces," said Emory, 30, (RA | Student ASLA | LEED AP BD+C), who graduated with a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLArch) degree from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture. The impact of the tornado on campus has been substantial but the way they have risen to that challenge and created new learning opportunities is inspiring. I always tried to do my schoolwork on campus as often as I could just to be in that environment."

Emory, a licensed architect, said a focus on ecology is what initially drew him to Temple's Master of Landscape Architecture program.

"Just looking around and moving through the world, I began to realize I didn't know what anything was — I didn't know the names of plants and trees. I felt like I was missing something important there in how I was connected to places and environments," he said. "I enjoy being outdoors, but I felt like I could enjoy it more if I understood ecology. I had a background in design so that, combined with my interest in learning more about the world around me, brought me to the field of landscape architecture and to Temple Ambler — the campus itself and the Ambler Arboretum are an excellent learning resource."

Initially working with the architectural firm SMP Architects in Philadelphia when he started his degree, Emory had an opportunity through Temple to pursue a certificate in Teaching in Higher Education, offered by Temple's Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

"As part of that certificate, you have to teach in an academic setting, and I've been teaching at Drexel University since then. It's a studio that's focused on architecture and landscape; there's a lot of great synergy to what I've been learning while completing the MLArch program," he said. "Time management is always a huge factor in everything I do. Having worked while I was in school, there were certain things that needed to happen every single day. A lot of the work that I do both inside and outside of the classroom are collaborative efforts, which is always helpful — it's not all on you when you're working with a team toward a common goal."

During his final year in the Master of Landscape Architecture program, Emory added a new responsibility to his growing list as co-president of the Temple student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects with fellow student Sidney Buckingham.

"We work together with the organization board on spearheading a lot of initiatives to connect students with the landscape architecture profession as a whole. After a year of online learning due to COVID I saw getting involved in the ASLA as an important opportunity to build strong connections with other students, to give them the chance to congregate again in a social and educational setting," he said. "Last fall we created a series of presentations around the theme of community engagement in the design process — we had presenters come in to talk about their experiences of engaging communities through design. We recently had a visit by the ASLA national CEO, Torey Carter-Conneen, and we're participating in the ASLA regional conference. These are excellent networking opportunities in addition to helping us create a community of learners who support one another."       

While Emory has embraced the importance of connecting with fellow students, colleagues and professionals through the ASLA student chapter, the ASLA has in turn recognized his creativity, dedication and acute attention to detail as a landscape architect.

Emory was recently presented with two Merit Awards by the by the PA-DE Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. His project entitled "Harvest | Enrich | Grow was honored with the Merit Award in Analysis and Planning, which recognizes the wide variety of professional activities that lead to, guide, and evaluate landscape architecture design. His project Place-Braiding: Design for Trenton's Capital Park, received a Merit Award for General Design, which recognizes site-specific works of landscape architecture. The awards presentation may be viewed here.

With Harvest | Enrich | Grow, which previously won Second Place in the prestigious international Edmund Bacon Urban Design Awards Student Competition, Emory explored the possibilities presented by the closure of the polluted Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia, which "offers an unprecedented opportunity to redevelop 1,300 acres of riverfront real estate."

The project seeks to maximize public recreational and educational benefit on the site within a framework of sound economics by utilizing three restorative systems: materials recovery, soil creation, and ecological restoration. The site is comprehensively re-imagined as an industrial ecology which promotes circular economics, fosters wildlife habitat, and restores public health.

Place-Braiding: Design for Trenton's Capital Park proposes the conversion of a limited access waterfront highway into an urban boulevard to "reunite the city of Trenton with the Delaware River, a dynamic ecological asset."

Enabled by highway demolition, the new waterfront park would facilitate cultural, ecological, and social connections by "braiding" assets together into a meaningful, resilient, and accessible public place. The park responds to resident needs while creating an iconic signature landscape for New Jersey's capital city.

"I'm very interested in connecting people to ecology; I see that as the primary goal. As a species sometimes there are people who feel alienated from a sense of place, from the landscape, from ecology," Emory said. "There are opportunities to create designs to connect or re-connect them; to move them from alienation to caring, to feeling there is a mutual benefit to using a space in a way that takes ecology into account. I'm particularly interested in publicly owned and managed spaces that allow access to everyone —landscape architecture is uniquely capable of ensuring that people have access to those types of spaces."

Temple's Master of Landscape Architecture program, is "both practical and aspirational," Emory said.

"It is practically grounded in a real-world understanding that is won through spending time in places, working with your hands in places; doing scientific work to ground design ideas in real ecological concepts. But there is also this broader aspirational idea of ecological restoration, which is such a huge concern all over the world," he said. "It's a big picture problem about how we organize ourselves as a society, what our priorities are as a culture. I love that this realm of ecological restoration is a large part of everything that we are learning. It allows me to engage with the details of the program as well as these bigger concepts about how we live on this planet."

For instance, having the opportunity to spend several days over the course of a summer "walking around in restoration sites from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a group of students and two professors that are extremely knowledgeable about plants, ecology and restoration was invaluable," Emory said.

"That's certainly not something I would have been able to do on my own. I am working with students from all backgrounds and walks of life who bring a diverse wealth of knowledge to this program, and I've learned so much from them," he said. "Those field opportunities — taking core sample from trees, looking at soil in a wetland — were critical to my education and something that I think Temple Ambler is in a unique position to provide for the program. My experience at Temple has been exactly what I was looking for. I am always learning something new in this program that has broadened and expanded my worldview and how I think about the environment while broadening and expanding my abilities as a designer."

With his degree in hand, Emory is planning to set off to experience a variety of locations in the country — Arizona, Maine and Maryland — before planning out the next phase of his career.

"I want to keep teaching at the intersection of landscape and architecture. I'll be working toward becoming registered in the landscape architecture field and ultimately work at a design firm — I want to focus locally," he said. "Landscape architecture and architecture are about how we as humans inhabit this planet. I see architecture and landscape architecture as very interrelated, and I would like to practice as a designer of buildings and landscapes in a way that respects natural systems."