Trained as a landscape architect and urban designer, Victoria Marshall has always objected to the idea of nature as a paradise or place to escape to. “Nature isn’t some faraway place,” she says. “It’s everywhere.” Marshall has dedicated her academic career to shifting people’s perspectives on their surroundings, something she is currently doing as director of the undergraduate Urban Design program, housed in the School of Design Strategies at Parsons. Her work connects ecology with urban design, as does the program, which trains students to strategically and creatively engage with contemporary problems facing cities.
Marshall first came to urban design as a student in her native Australia, where she did her undergraduate work in landscape architecture. The program appealed to her desire to employ both technical design skills and creative approaches in her work. She later came to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in landscape architecture and an Urban Design Certificate from the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, landscape urbanism was a burgeoning field, and Marshall was intrigued by its potential. For her final graduate project, Marshall focused on water in urban landscapes, in particular the emergence of new public spaces during and after heavy rains.
Marshall ended up in New York, where she has practiced as both a professional landscape architect and a professor, teaching courses on urban design alongside architects and ecologists. The experience has given her a profound understanding of how different design practices can be employed to find solutions to urban problems. “We want to help students feel comfortable moving between and beyond disciplines,” says Marshall. Her teaching also supports her personal practice, in which Marshall and her collaborators transform complex urban settings through innovative approaches to landscape architecture and urban design, ecosystem research, and drawing as a form of participatory activism. “We want to develop pragmatic ways to help people interact fully with cities, but also imagine as broadly as possible the forms that engagement might take.”