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Spirn wins award for contribution to coexistence of 'nature and mankind'

Anne W. Spirn
Anne W. Spirn

Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning Anne W. Spirn has been awarded the ninth annual International Cosmos Prize for research that has contributed to the "harmonious co-existence of nature and mankind."

Professor Spirn, who is the youngest person, first woman and the first designer/planner to win the award, will receive 40 million yen ($324,400), a gold medal and a commendation in Tokyo in October from the Japanese Expo '90 Foundation, which sponsors the prize. In addition, she will deliver a commemorative lecture and participate in a symposium honoring her work.

Professor Spirn, who has a joint appointment in the Departments of Urban Studies and Planning and Architecture, said, "Human survival and the survival of life on Earth depend on adapting ourselves and our landscapes--cities, buildings, gardens, roadways, rivers, fields, forests--in new, life-sustaining ways. Shaping contexts that reflect the interconnections of air, earth, water, life and culture [will] help us feel and understand these connections [and create] landscapes that are functional, sustainable, meaningful and artful.

"My career as a landscape architect and planner, teacher, author and photographer has been dedicated to advancing these goals. It is a special honor to be recognized by the Expo '90 Foundation, which has made such a great contribution in this field."

Professor Spirn received the A.B. in art history from Radcliffe College in 1969 and the M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. After five years at a private firm, she joined the Harvard University faculty in 1979 and served as the director of the landscape architecture program from 1984-86. She was the chair of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Landscape Architecture from 1986-93 and co-director of its urban studies program from 1996-2000. She came to MIT in 2000.

"Anne's work represents a sophisticated design and ecological sensibility which is necessary for enhancing the quality of urban life," said Professor Bishwapriya Sanyal, head of urban studies and planning. "We are proud to have her as a colleague."

Professor Stanford Anderson, head of architecture, said, "Our department had long wished to associate environmentally sound landscape concerns directly with architectural design--not as a separate discipline. The capacity and the courage to pursue that goal as a lone professor of landscape architecture in a School of Architecture and Planning is probably unique to Anne Spirn and also precisely what made her achievements worthy of the honor she has received and so richly deserves."

Professor Spirn is the author of two books, "The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design" (Basic Books, 1984) and "The Language of Landscape" (Yale University Press, 1998). She is working on "Telling Landscape," a book of essays and color photographs, and "Top Down/Bottom Up: Rebuilding the Landscape of Community," which presents results of her 18 years of work with inner-city neighborhoods.

Previous winners of the Cosmos Prize include filmmaker Sir Richard Attenborough (2000), Professor Jared M. Diamond of the UCLA School of Medicine (1998), Professor Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford (1997), and Sir Ghillian Prince, director of the United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens (1993).

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 12, 2001.

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