Forest Futures: Will the Forest Save Us All?

Conference poster featuring a dying forest on the left and a thriving forest on the right.

Event Description

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design will host a two-day academic conference alongside its new exhibition, Forest Futures.

Planetary survival in the Anthropocene crucially depends on the stewardship of resilient forest ecosystems worldwide—at the scales of wilderness, planted forests, metropolitan tracts, and the urban forest canopy of cities and towns everywhere. The Fifth National Climate Assessment (US, 2023) repeats now familiar claims that healthy forests provide essential ecological, economic, and social benefits and services.
But our forests today face extreme risk. Disturbance agents are driving massive change—including unprecedented temperature increases, altered precipitation patterns, increasingly catastrophic weather events, uncontrollable mega-fires, and destructive land use practices. This symposium addresses risks and threats, initiatives and improved practices, and speculations on a more secure and more just future for metropolitan and urban forests and the species that inhabit them.  
The symposium accompanies a concurrent gallery exhibition in the Druker Design Gallery, Gund Hall, entitled Forest Futures, curated by GSD Professor of Landscape Architecture Anita Berrizbeitia and the graduate students in her seminar, DES-3510 Forests: Histories and Future Narratives

Conference Overview

Thursday, February 15
Harvard GSD, Piper Auditorium

48 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA 02138

Doors open at 6:00 p.m.

6:30 — 6:45 p.m.
Gary Hilderbrand, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture

Opening Keynote
6:45 — 7:15 p.m.
William (Ned) Friedman

Keynote Response
7:15 — 7:45 p.m.
Honorable Mayor Michelle Wu
Gary Hilderbrand, William (Ned) Friedman & Edward Eigen

Gallery Preview
7:45 — 8:00 p.m.
Anita Berrizbeitia

8:00 p.m. — 9:00 p.m.

Friday, February 16
Harvard GSD, Gund Hall

48 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA 02138

9:30 — 9:45 a.m.
Sarah Whiting, Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture

Opening Remarks
9:45 a.m. — 10:00 a.m.
Gary Hilderbrand, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture

Panel 1: Scaling Threats
10:00 a.m. — 11:25 a.m.
Moderated by Edward Eigen

  • Lisa Haber-Thomson & Edward Eigen, Epping Forest’s Highwayman, Dick Turpin
  • David Nowak, Urban Forest Change: The Need for Planning and Action
  • Jonathan Thompson, The Role of Forests in Massachusetts’ Decarbonization Roadmap
  • Discussion

Panel 2: Decoding the Urban Forest
11:45 a.m. — 1:10 pm
Moderated by Pablo Perez-Ramos

  • Michael Jakob, The Heterotopic Other
  • Nicholas Pevzner and Max Piana, Beyond the Axe: Reimagining Silviculture and Design
  • Acheampong Atta-Boateng, Concrete to Canopy: Nature-based Urban Adaptation

Lunch Break
1:15 p.m. — 2:15 p.m.

Panel 3: Speculating and Acting
2:15 p.m. — 3:40 p.m.
Moderated by Pamela Conrad

  • Silvia Benedito, “Cold-Fire” Landscape Management for Warmer Climates
  • Amy Whitesides, An Equitable Urban Forest Plan for the City of Boston
  • Eric Kramer, Shared Responsibility, Empowering Action in Cambridge, MA

Panel 4: A Just Survival?
4:00 p.m. — 6:00 p.m.
Moderated by Gary Hilderbrand

  • Maria-Mercedes Jaramillo, Growing Forests in Bogotá: Resistance, Reconciliation, Resilience
  • Abby Spinak, What You Do to the Land, You Do to the People
  • Sonja Dümpelmann, From Breathing Space to Palliative: Urban Forests and Public  Health in the Plantationocene
  • Discussion & Closing Remarks


Acheampong Atta-Boateng is a plant ecologist affiliated with the ecosystems group at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. Additionally, he serves as a research associate at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Formerly, he held the research director position at Yale University’s Urban Ecology and Design Lab, contributing significantly to the development of Green Cooling Tower technology for infrastructure cooling and carbon sequestration. Acheampong’s research centers on understanding how plants strategically employ life history traits for optimal adaptation and productivity in diverse environmental conditions. His work spans temperate and tropical vegetation systems, from the Metacomet Ridges of New England to African savannas. He holds a Master’s degree in Forest Science and pursued further education in mechanical engineering and material science at Yale University. His doctoral research at the University of Oxford explored the intricate connections between tree physiology, pollination ecology, and landscape in relation to cacao productivity.

Silvia Benedito is a registered architect, landscape architect and urban designer in both Portugal and Germany. She teaches and coordinates design studios and research centered on the role of climate-oriented design strategies in ameliorating thermal loads of urban territories. Her most recent research examines the wildfire causes in rural communities of the Mediterranean-type climate regions (MCRs) and West Africa. Benedito has taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and has served as a Guest Professor at the Technische Universität München (2018) and at the Technische Universität Graz (2019). More recently, she was the Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Benedito’s most recent book, Atmosphere Anatomies: On Design, Weather, and Sensation (Lars Müller Publishers, Zürich, 2021), was awarded the Sustainability and Innovation Book Award (2022).

Anita Berrizbeitia is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She served as Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture between 2015-2022 and as Program Director of the Master in Landscape Architecture Degree Programs between 2012-2015. Her research explores nineteenth and twentieth-century public realm landscapes, with interests in material culture, urban political ecology, and the productive functions of landscapes in processes of urbanization and climate adaptation. Her research on Latin American cities and landscapes focuses, in addition, on the role of large-scale infrastructural projects on territorial organization, climate adaptation, and on the interface between landscape and emerging urbanization.

Sonja Dümpelmann is Professor and Chair of Environmental Humanities at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich where she also co-directs the Rachel Carson Center. She was previously a Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Dümpelmann is a historian of urban landscapes and environments. Her most recent award-winning books are Landscapes for Sport: Histories of Physical Exercise, Sport, and Health (ed., Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2022), and Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin (Yale University Press, 2019). Among other things, she has served as Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington D.C. and as President of the Landscape History Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.

Edward Eigen is a Senior Lecturer in the History of Landscape and Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His scholarly work focuses on the intersections of the human and natural sciences with the built environment in the long nineteenth century. His book, On Accident: Episodes in Architecture and Landscape, was published by the MIT Press in 2018. Currently, he is examining landscapes associated with the modern American presidency, including the “grassy knoll.” His recent essays on Olmsted examine questions of race, ornithology, piracy, drafting tools, and friction.

Lisa Haber-Thomson is a Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and an architectural historian and designer interested in interdisciplinary and inter-media translations. Her research explores the historical entanglements between architecture and law. She is currently at work on two major projects. The first is about prisons—a book manuscript on early modern carceral architecture across England and its expanding empire as well as the many spatial forms of detention and claims of sovereignty and subjecthood it produced. In parallel, she is interested in how architecture becomes implicated in contemporary legal practice, especially with regard to prisoner’s rights discourses.

Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, FAAR, is the Peter Louis Hornbeck Professor in Practice and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design. He is also principal and founder of Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects. Hilderbrand is a fellow and resident of the American Academy in Rome. He received the Design Medal from ASLA in 2017. His widely acclaimed publications include The Miller Garden: Icon of Modernism (Spacemaker Press, 1999) and Visible | Invisible: Landscape Works of Reed Hilderbrand (Metropolis Books, 2013).

Michael Jakob teaches Comparative Literature at UGA Grenoble, History and Theory of Landscape at HEPIA, Geneva, and aesthetics of design at HEAD, Geneva. He is a visiting professor at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio and at Parma University. His teaching and research focus on landscape theory, aesthetics, the history of vertigo, contemporary theories of perception and the poetics of architecture. Among his publications in English: the swiss touch in landscape architecture, Ifengspace, Tianjing 2015; The Bench in the Garden, Oro Editions, Novato CA 2022; Faux Mountains, Oro Editions, Novato CA 2019, Seeds of Knowledge, Silvana Editoriale, Milan 2022. He is the curator of international exhibitions and the author of documentary films on landscape.

Maria-Mercedes Jaramillo is a transcultural architect and urban planner. After more than ten years of experience in urban design, master planning and strategic land-use planning in France, she has been orienting structural transformations for Bogota through her roles as Urban Development Director at ProBogotá Región -an independent non-profit organization sponsored by the top 50 Colombian companies- (2015-2020), CEO of Bogota’s public Urban Regeneration and Development Company (2020-2021) and Secretary of Planning for Bogotá (2021-2023). During Covid 19 pandemic, she was appointed by Mayor Claudia López to tackle poverty, feminization of poverty and hunger, engaging in new scales of territorial planning, from the very local to metropolitan dimensions. As a result, Bogota has a new Land Use and Master Plan -Bogotá Reverdece, 2022-2035- to shape the future of needed innovations: providing 1 million housing units, enabling 1 million additional jobs, and deploying a feminist ease-of-access care system while preserving strategic ecosystems, fostering adaptation to climate risks and promoting local, innovative and participatory planning. She is currently a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

William (Ned) Friedman is the Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and the eighth Director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in its 152-year history. During his thirteen years at the helm of the Arboretum, Friedman has worked to expand the Arboretum’s global impacts through diverse environmental justice initiatives, a keen focus on ex situ conservation, and the promotion of a vast array of scientific scholarship within the living collections. As an evolutionary biologist, Friedman’s scholarly studies have fundamentally altered century-old views of the earliest phases of the evolution of flowering plants, Darwin’s so-called “abominable mystery.” He is also deeply interested in the history of early (pre-Darwinian) evolutionary thought, particularly the largely overlooked contributions of horticulturists and botanists.

Eric Kramer A principal of Reed Hilderbrand, Eric brings equal attention to rigorous research, responsive engagement of people and communities, and the expressive potential of design. He has led projects associated with the renewal and enrichment of campuses, cities, and institutions, including the Cambridge Urban Forest Master Plan, the Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Master Plan in San Antonio, Texas, Pier 4 Waterfront Park and Central Wharf Plaza in Boston, and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He edited Visible|Invisible, the firm’s award-winning monograph. Eric received a Master of Landscape Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a Bachelor of Arts from Amherst College. He has served as an adjunct professor in the Rhode Island School of Design’s landscape architecture program and serves on the board of The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

David J. Nowak is an Emeritus Senior Scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station. His research investigates urban forest structure, health, and change, and its effect on human health and environmental quality. He has authored 400 publications and given over 600 presentations across the world. He also led teams developing the i-Tree software suite that quantifies the benefits and values from vegetation globally. In a 2020 ranking of >24,000 forest researchers worldwide, Dr. Nowak ranked number 2.

Nicholas Pevzner is an assistant professor in landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. His research spans across the topics of ecological systems, energy landscapes, and climate policy. His work focuses on ecological systems and their integration into design, the design of renewable energy landscapes and energy infrastructure’s integration into culturally contested landscapes, and speculative designs for decarbonization. His teaching and research investigate the impacts of climate policy on the physical built environment, on cultural attitudes, and on implications for spatial justice. He holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Architecture from The Cooper Union. Prior to his appointment at Penn, he worked at the landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Max Piana is a postdoc researching ecologies with the U.S. Forest Service and an urban ecologist who works at the interface of science and practice. As a research ecologist, teacher, and land manager, he engages with urban practitioners and integrates research into the planning, design, and management of cities. His current research focuses on plant community dynamics and management strategies in urban greenspaces. From remnant forest fragments to green infrastructure, he is interested in how the ecological mechanisms and successional trajectories of these systems may be altered to better facilitate and sustain their ecological health and function.

Abby Spinak is a Lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she studies energy history, with a particular interest in the politics of utility ownership and the role of infrastructure in disseminating economic ideas. Her current research ties the history of electrification in the rural United States to the evolution of twentieth-century American capitalism and alternative economic visions. She is currently completing a book, Democracy Electric: Energy and Economic Citizenship in an Urbanizing America.

Jonathan Thompson is a Senior Ecologist at the Harvard Forest, a department of Harvard University. His research focuses on long-term and broad-scale changes in forest ecosystems, with an emphasis on quantifying how land use – including harvest, conversion, and land protection – affects forest ecosystem processes and services. He is the Principal Investigator for the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and involving more than 100 scientists and students investigating the dynamics of the New England landscape. He also leads the New England Landscape Futures project, which collaborates with diverse stakeholders from throughout the region to build and evaluate scenarios that show how land-use choices and climate change could shape the landscape over the next 50 years.

Amy Whitesides is a registered landscape architect, practitioner, and educator. She is a Design Critic in Landscape Architecture at Harvard GSD, where she teaches Climate by Design and second and third-semester CORE studios. Before coming to the GSD full-time, she spent 10 years in the Boston office of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, where she was most recently the Director of Resilience. At Stoss, Amy ran many of the firm’s waterfront design and planning efforts for resilient public open space and Boston’s Urban Forest Plan. Her projects have been recognized with numerous awards, including an ASLA Honor Award, World Landscape Architecture Award of Excellence, APA Sustainability & Resiliency Award, and multiple BSLA awards of Merit. Amy is currently working on watershed-level urban forest planning in the greater Boston area and research, funded by Harvard University’s Salata Institute, on the potential for developing agroforestry at a national scale.

Sarah Whiting has been Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design since 2019. She is also a design principal and co-founder of WW Architecture, based in Cambridge, and served as the Dean of Rice University’s School of Architecture from 2010 to 2019. Whiting obtained an interdisciplinary, self-directed Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale, a Master of Architecture from Princeton in 1990, and a Doctor of Philosophy in the History and Theory of Architecture from MIT in 2001. Whiting’s research and writing is broadly interdisciplinary, with the built environment at its core. An expert in architectural theory and urbanism, she is particularly interested in modern and contemporary architecture’s imbricated relationship with politics, economics, and society, and how the built environment shapes the nature of public life.

Anyone requiring accessibility accommodations should contact the Public Programs Office at (617) 496-2414 or [email protected].