After a series of discussions with the administration and Physical Plant, the student group Working for Intelligent Landscape Design (WILD Wes) was given the green light to begin redesigning the courtyard of West College (WestCo). Pending approval from the Green Building Committee on the group’s final design plan, the landscaping project—the group’s first on University grounds—will be implemented over the summer.
“We have been working on the designs pretty extensively over the past two weeks since we got approval,” said WILD Wes co-founder Miles Bukiet ’11. “The WestCo courtyard is a site that is suffering from a lot of soil erosion, so our job is to take a site that’s a challenge and an eyesore and turn it into an example of what can exist across campus.”
According to co-founder Sam Silver ’11, the WestCo landscape design should address problems of water runoff, damaged soil, and unsustainable groundcover. Although this process may take some time, the courtyard, located between the WestCo buildings and Foss Hill, may eventually see fruit-bearing trees and other plant life.
“All of the environmental problems of this site are tied to its failings as a functional social space, so we’re trying to create a place for people to gather without compromising the courtyard ecologically,” Silver said. “We’ve been working with WestCo to catalyze their community around this project, since they have a large stake in it too. What’s especially nice is that it’s an extremely visible site—visible to tour groups and just about anyone on Foss Hill—but at the same time it’s fairly isolated, so the danger of public drunken debauchery isn’t an issue.”
WILD Wes has been working closely with members of E&ES420: Sustainable Landscape Design Studio, a student forum run by Bukiet and Silver. In the class, students investigate sustainable landscaping practices to ensure that their plans are able to address problems such as soil erosion.
“The point of the forum was to create knowledge within the group,” Bukiet said. “It’s easy to throw a word like soil remediation out there, but it’s another thing to understand what it actually means. The forum has been our learning ground, and together we’ve done extensive research on the Internet and through a ton of books. Our library has gone from having a pretty weak selection of books on permaculture and soil health to having a pretty extensive collection. We were able to order those books through this class. Those are the sorts of institutional resources we’re building here, which just goes to show that whatever Wesleyan is at any given point isn’t necessarily indicative of what it will be.”
Students in the forum have worked on their designs all semester and may finally be able to implement them with the new project at WestCo.
“It’s great to take it from the theoretical range to the point where we’ll actually be able to design for a client,” Bukiet said. “Things have really happened quickly, and that’s premised off of the relationship we’ve built with people at Physical Plant and the hard work that everyone’s been putting in along the way.”
Through the Green Fund, Bukiet and Silver have been able to hire professional landscape designers to advise and support the class throughout the semester. Bukiet expressed hope that this type of support will continue even in his absence.
“It has been amazing having those professionals work with us, and that’s going continue in the future,” he said. “Our goal is to have the forum run in the next two years, and there is actually interest in having a faculty position created. We’re hoping to integrate the work we’re doing into what that position becomes. I think this is really what the Green Fund is about: getting students to do something really valuable and then have the University take over and become responsible for it.”
Silver said that he is confident the organization will continue to be successful even after he and Bukiet graduate next month.
“We’ve really set up the foundation to continue these projects far into the future,” he said. “We’ve set up strong leadership, began institutionalizing our student forum as an active design process, built up support among staff, faculty, and administrators, and developed a playbook of future designs for other sites on campus that are just as rich as the one we’ve developed at WestCo. It speaks to the strength of our long-term vision and the meticulousness of our planning that we had all that in place even before the first piece of cardboard is laid down on WestCo.”
Andrew Pezzullo ’13, who plans to take over the coordination of the student forum next year, was also confident about the viability of the group in coming years.
“I think politically, professionally, and administratively we’ve made major developments,” Pezzullo said. “Institutionally, the club is the largest it’s ever been. I think our goal for next year, at least for the forum, is to grow our tribe of renegade permaculturists on campus, to be able to train student ecological designers to offer new perspectives on our campus, and in the long term, to do this at a national level.”
WILD Wes plans to end the year with a celebration at Russell House, where Silver said they first began working with staff, students, and other key stakeholders in the community. The group also plans to expand its network of student landscape designers and form an inter-collegiate network called WILD U.
Although the process of redesigning the WestCo courtyard will take several months, Pezzullo said there should be visible changes within the next year.
“We’ll have plants in ground by next spring,” he said. “But if nothing else comes of this except a network of designers, students, and administrators all thinking through new ecological lenses, that’s a success to me. That we would have the capacity to imagine and re-imagine landscape in a way that’s not ugly, boring, and ecologically deficient, is awesome to me.”
For students interested in taking part in next year’s Sustainable Landscape Design Studio student forum, email firstname.lastname@example.org.