On Tuesday, the National Building Museum awarded University of Virginia landscape architecture professor Elizabeth K. Meyer its prestigious Vincent Scully Prize, honoring her contributions in both practice and education.
Meyer, the Merrill D. Peterson Professor of Landscape Architecture and founding director of UVA’s Center for Cultural Landscapes, has assisted with the research, interpretation, planning and design of major projects and historic sites both close to home (UVA’s Academical Village) and around the U.S., including Bryant Park in New York City, the Gateway Arch grounds in St. Louis and the Wellesley College campus outside of Boston.
She worked on former first lady Michelle Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden, leading a team of UVA faculty and students who planned and designed renovations in 2016, and has shaped important landscapes in the nation’s capital through her service on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2012.
The commission advises the government on designs for landmarks, memorials, public buildings and landscapes in Washington, D.C. Among many other projects, Meyer and her fellow commissioners reviewed architecture and landscape designs for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which Meyer called “the most rewarding project” of her four years on the commission.
Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, chair of the jury that selected the prize, said Meyer “embodies the very spirit of Vincent Scully as a master lecturer who inspired generations of practitioners. … Integrating research and writing with professional, administrative and civic responsibilities, Meyer has produced an influential body of theory, interpretation and criticism, on landscape topics related to aesthetics, sustainability, culture and social impact.”
Scully, a professor emeritus at Yale University, received one of UVA’s highest external honors, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, in 1982. Meyer, who said she was surprised and delighted by the award, notes that he was particularly known for teaching students in both architecture and other disciplines, something she hopes to continue doing at UVA.
“I love my architecture students, but I have also really enjoyed working with students outside of the Architecture School who are interested in the built environment and want those immersive experiences,” she said.
This fall, Meyer will teach a Pavilion seminar on Central Park and use funding from the Jefferson Trust to take students to New York City over fall break, where they will meet with leaders of the Central Park Conservancy, talk with the people who have made the park what it is, and experience America’s most famous park firsthand.
“Students love the combination of immersive learning on the site with archival work at UVA’s Special Collections Library – where we have an amazing collection of landscape history material – and the reading and writing of a seminar,” Meyer said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
University Executive Vice President and Provost Liz Magill praised Meyer’s work at UVA and beyond.
“Beth’s contributions to architecture, the University, and to significant memorials and landscapes throughout the United States are a testament to her talent and vision,” she said. “This prestigious honor is well-deserved, and clearly demonstrates how Beth’s career embodies the University’s emphasis on serving the public good through research, teaching and creative expression.”
A longtime UVA professor, Meyer earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture from the University and previously served as the School of Architecture’s dean. In addition to her ongoing work in the classroom and the field, she is writing a book, “The Margins of Modernity: Practices of Modern Landscape Architecture.”
She will accept the Vincent Scully Prize Oct. 30 during a public program at the National Building Museum in Washington, where she will discuss contemporary topics in landscape architecture and public space design with Thaisa Way. Way, program director of garden and landscape studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Center and a professor at the University of Washington, is also a UVA alumna.