Connecticut College Magazine · Summer 2012


Former Dean of the College Jewel Plummer Cobb with Beverly Clark Prince '72 in Cobb's lab at Connecticut College. Photo courtesy of the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives.

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The landscape of knowledge

The landscape of knowledge

Dave Rubin '85 is transforming a Roman hilltop — and the way we think about architecture

by Bill Hanrahan

The story of how someone becomes an acclaimed artist and winner of the highest honor in his field is bound to include intangibles. But in the case of David Rubin '85, there are solid clues.

“I had an extraordinary awakening at Connecticut College,” says Rubin, 2011-12 winner of the Rome Prize for Landscape Architecture. “It was there that I learned how to learn. … The landscape of knowledge was mine to explore.”

Today, Rubin is the creative force behind some of the country's most extraordinary landscape architecture, including a plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, a three-block-long park in Washington, D.C., a hospital campus in Indianapolis, and the Potomac Park Levee on the National Mall.

For the Rome Prize fellowship — awarded annually to 30 individuals who represent the highest standard of excellence in the arts and humanities — Rubin is spending 11 months at the American Academy in Rome, where he is working to transform the hilltop academy south of the Vatican into a 21st-century, holistically sustainable campus, including growing its own foods.

Rubin, who majored in art and art history, likens his work at the American Academy to the multidisciplinary learning environment that he thrived in at the College, especially with faculty like Professors of Art Tim McDowell and Maureen McCabe and Professors of Art History Barbara Zabel and the late Nancy Batson Nisbet Rash.

“As a result of my education at Connecticut, I have been able to look at the world with a broad-spectrum view — a capacity to see in panorama, not myopically,” says Rubin, who has returned to campus often to visit architectural studies classes. “These fine professors helped me exploit my newfound skill sets to their fullest.”

McDowell recalls Rubin as an inspiration in the studio. “David knew inherently how to have a dialogue with process and medium, and I think he has become so successful exactly because of that skill,” he says. McDowell adds that Rubin has “incredible optimism that lets him project to all: 'A solution will be found to the design problem at hand, and it will be fun finding it.' No wonder he has gone so far with his abilities.”

Zabel, now professor emeritus, remembers Rubin as a “gem” of a student who remains a close friend.

“When David was a student, I was newly married and moved into a house bereft of any gardens to speak of,” she says. “David designed several garden beds for me, and then proceeded to raid his mother's garden of some extraordinary plants, including yellow-burgundy lilies and black iris, which he planted in mine. They still bloom profusely every year, reminding me of his generosity — and his eye for design even then.”

From his professor's gardens to the National Mall, Rubin, who recently founded Land Collective, a Philadelphia-based firm that will practice socially sustainable landscape architecture and urban design, says he strives for “creating a better world.” In fact, his holistic vision for his parks, plazas and cityscapes shares much philosophically with a good liberal arts classroom.

“Landscape architecture invites participation from all sectors of society,” Rubin says. “My goal is to create a space in which two very different types of people might come together — say a chemistry professor and a young protester — and as a result of the design I've created, they choose to sit next to each other in dappled shade on a comfortable bench. Sitting next to each other, they start a conversation, and as a result of that conversation, an idea is formed. And 10 years down the road, that idea saves the world.”

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