Landslide 2020: Women Take the Lead – Sara Zewde on her journey to landscape architecture

Sara Zewde says growing up in Louisiana where virtually every part of daily life takes place in public space was the beginning of her journey to landscape architecture. However, it was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina that prompted her to explore professions that addressed the political, cultural, ecological and aesthetic issues that manifest as a Hurricane Katrina and the steps to mitigate some of the issues that such an event brings to light. As a university student she began to investigate how to make relevant different peoples’ cultures and experiences in the practice of landscape architecture. She wanted to pursue a thesis study about a site connected with the transatlantic slave trade and was told the project wasn’t relevant to landscape architecture. However, her advisor at Harvard, Anita Berrizbeitia, encouraged her to pursue her own path and create her own precedent. Zewde makes the distinction of the profession of landscape architecture and the practice of shaping land and muses on the possibility of the discipline expanding its purview to identify the significance of people who shape the land. From there she discusses Frederick Law Olmsted whose chronicles of his travels in the South in the 19th century, Zewde says, identifies enslaved people as the stewards of the land. Olmsted’s writings are important in providing a history of the contributions of enslaved people and people of African descent, particularly women of African descent as stewards of the land.