University of Virginia professor Elizabeth K. Meyer has been appointed the inaugural faculty director of Morven Programs’ new Sustainability Lab.
In a June announcement, the University and the UVA Foundation shared that the Morven Farm property, gifted to the foundation in 2001 by philanthropist John Kluge, would serve as UVA’s Sustainability Lab.
Research and academic programs at the new lab will focus on environment and sustainability, food and agriculture, physical and mental wellness, and history and legacy.
Aligning with the sustainability goals defined in the University’s 2030 Plan, the lab will examine and address today’s environmental sustainability challenges.
“This is a 3,000-acre cultural and scientific experimental learning lab,” Meyer said. “There has always been an assumption that Morven is an open space that needed to be filled with buildings and outside activity, but I see Morven as full of history and memory and ecology. I would love, five years from now, for students to say ‘I want to come to UVA because I could do a semester abroad at Morven.’ There are so many opportunities to build on the incredible work that has been done on food sustainability, and I can see the excitement in students’ eyes when research is paired with learning on site.”
Meyer is the Merrill D. Peterson Professor of Landscape Architecture at UVA’s School of Architecture, where she also served as dean from 2014 to 2016.
“Beth is a seasoned, well-respected leader across Grounds,” Louis Nelson, UVA’s vice provost for academic outreach, said. “My hope is that Beth will lead the University in a creative reimagining of Morven toward responsible, creative and inspiring engagement that sets a model for sustainability initiatives for universities, communities, states and nations for years to come.”
Meyer’s highest priority for her first year on the job will be to create an implementation plan for transforming the Morven property into the UVA Sustainability Lab with two-, five- and 10-year benchmarks. For now, her work will focus on creating an advisory committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members to collaborate on a five-year strategic plan in the spring and summer of 2023. Startup work will also include taking a landscape inventory of Morven to ensure that future practices are mindful of the cultural history and ecosystem of the farm.
Meyer has taught at UVA since 1993, having taught previously at Cornell University and Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She is the founder of the Center for Cultural Landscapes at UVA’s School of Architecture and was appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts by former President Barack Obama. She served as a commission member from 2012 to 2021 and as a vice chair from 2017 to 2021.
Meyer’s work has challenged and shaped perceptions on landscape architecture by considering how details such as culture, race and wildlife impact contemporary design.
“Beth’s leadership and vision will bring Morven into the nucleus of activity in the role and mission of the University of Virginia,” Rebecca Deeds, director of Morven Programs, said. “Her expertise as a landscape architect, in her own practice and as a professor, will help envision how we talk about our cultural landscape in the context of sustainability. She and I are totally aligned in terms of how we envision the future of the property, the program and its contribution to not only the University community, but to society at large.”
“We are thrilled to welcome Beth to the Morven team,” Tim Rose, chief executive officer of the UVA Foundation, said. “Her design work and leadership, both in the private sector and at the University, is well known; her expertise and vision will be a tremendous addition to Morven.”
A “double Hoo,” Meyer earned her Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from UVA in 1978, and her Master of Landscape Architecture in 1982. She also holds a Master of Arts in Historic Preservation from Cornell University with a minor in Landscape Architecture History.
Her partner, David, grew up spending time on the Morven Farm with family friends and she hopes to fold leisurely strolls of the Morven Farm with him and others into the development of the Sustainability Lab.
“I want to walk on-site with people who love that place and know it,” Meyer said. “Lenora McQueen taught at Morven this past summer and is a descendent of a woman who was enslaved there. There are descendent stories and Native American stories on this site, so I’m going to use walking as an interview practice to get to know the place through other people’s eyes.”
Meyer has a long list of honors, awards and grants, including the Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum; the Jot Carpenter Teaching Medal from the American Society of Landscape Architects; UVA’s Mellon Foundation Planning Grant; and UVA’s Jefferson Trust Grant.
She was also the recipient of an All-University Outstanding Teaching Award and the Woman of Achievement Award from the UVA Women Faculty and Professional Association.
The Morven Summer Institute, which typically runs from May to June, will continue after the opening of the Sustainability Lab.