Terry Brown photo

Terry J. Brown

Professor, Landscape Architecture
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

 


Terry Brown went off to college in the fall of 1964 and has stayed in an academic environment ever since. First at the University of Wisconsin (B.S., Landscape Architecture, 1969) and later at Harvard University (M. Landscape Architecture, 1972), he began the pursuit of the career he has sustained for almost thirty years.

"My thinking about my work has not changed because of my disability. Accessibility for everyone is one of the most important elements in design, and this can only be accomplished by including users in the process."
- Professor Terry Brown

Terry teaches in the Landscape Architecture Program at the School of Natural Resources and Environment of the University of Michigan. He started as a lecturer in 1972, and in May 1998 was promoted to professor of landscape architecture, one of his most valued professional honors. He has been chair of the department a number of times and spent a sabbatical year in 1978-79 as visiting lecturer at the University of Melbourne. He teaches two of the major course requirements for all students in the program, one each semester. The fall term course is Landscape Planning and Analysis and the winter course is Site Engineering.

"A major challenge in my teaching portfolio is to expand the students' vision of the profession. One of the most remarkable aspects of the field of landscape architecture is the range of problem-solving situations and diversity of disciplines that are involved. Yet most new students have preconceptions of landscape architecture that generally center on vegetation and physical design. The prevalent notion is that landscape architects become 'experts' with plant materials and build better places for mankind through a complete understanding of 'design.' Most of the students entering the program do not realize the breadth of the profession and are quite surprised by the courses they are required to take. For example, in the course on Landscape Planning and Analysis there is an encompassing focus: The intent of this course is to acquaint students with important issues, problems, and approaches in landscape planning and at the same time to convey to them that planning is not separate from but an integral part of design. I have developed studio-teaching formats that place substantial responsibility on the students for the definition of issues, the selection of methods, and the self-management of complex team projects during the course. To facilitate the teaching and learning in this course, I also integrate Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software."

Terry's most recent research includes Beyond Accessibility: Preference for Natural Areas, a study conducted with two of his colleagues, which confirmed perceptions and preferences of individuals with mobility limitations as well as their companions or caregivers, with respect to parks and natural places. The results indicated similarities in preferences regardless of degree of limitation. Forested scenes were far preferred over open field scenes, regardless of the difficulties in negotiating the area. He observes, "To increase the likelihood of a strong match between accessibility and satisfying destinations, it is essential to assure participation of the intended users."

Terry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1981 and has altered his teaching style as the disease progresses. "I lectured using the blackboard as long as I was able to walk well, which was until 1988. Then I started using typed overheads, which worked fine up until 1993. Since that time I've gotten around exclusively using a wheelchair, and I've found that using a laptop computer with LCD projection is the most effective means of communicating the course material to the students."

It was only natural for him to adapt his teaching techniques to the use of computer graphics and presentation software, as he had begun working with computers in the late 1960s, when they took up a corner of a room rather than the edge of a desk. He's spent innumerable hours working with his laptop on voice recognition programs and in preparing lectures. "I feel I'm a better professor and a better communicator because of the ways I've had to adapt."

His schedule has modest accommodations to meet his needs. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, he typically lectures for one hour in the mornings followed by a two-hour studio. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for research. He builds in some time for rest before afternoon appointments: meetings with students, faculty, and various committees, as well as administrative activities.

Photograph of a student showing Terry a document
Terry and a graduate student are discussing
an assignment at a drafting table.

Description of Photograph:
This is a photograph of Terry and a landscape architecture graduate student at her drafting table, discussing an assignment. The student is in the left of the photo, leaning toward Terry who is seated on her right. She is showing her assignment to Terry for his observations and comments.

One accommodation that the University of Michigan has provided Terry is an increase in graduate student assistant hours - he gets twice the amount of time usually provided to professors. He feels his school has been cognizant and supportive of his needs, and "they've never hesitated to adapt my workplace and the studios to be more accessible to me. Still, the university campus itself, with its many historic buildings, is not a totally accessible place." Terry has consciously chosen not to take on the task of adapting the design of the university and explains that the high level of awareness of access issues among his colleagues saves him from feeling that he has to be the person on building review committees to represent access issues-and for this he is grateful.

Terry first became interested in design during a drafting course in high school. A beginning architecture course also stimulated his interest. One of his teachers advised him to take the two-year landscape architecture program at the University of Wisconsin and then transfer to a school that offered a full undergraduate program in architecture. However, he was inspired by two innovative young faculty members at the University of Wisconsin and happily decided to stick with landscape architecture.

Upon reflection, Terry feels that the criteria of good design that were stressed in his education and what he continues to stress in his teaching are inclusive of access concerns. Even for a small .2-acre park in Liberty Square, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for which he drew up the master plan in the mid-1970s, his sense of good design dictated that it be carefully graded throughout. "My thinking about my work has not changed because of my disability. Accessibility for everyone is one of the most important elements in design, and this can only be accomplished by including users in the process."

Besides being promoted to full professor, there are two honors of which Terry is most proud. He received the Alumnus of the Year Award from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin in April 1997 in recognition of his many contributions toward a better environment. He also was the recipient of the Award of Distinction in October 1998, presented by the Council of Educators of Landscape Architects (CELA) in recognition of long-term excellence in teaching, research, and service. Only two of these awards are given each year, and his colleagues and former students nominated him without his knowledge.

When not teaching, he loves, "attending Michigan football and ice hockey games (in great accessible seating) and developing a large rock garden in our backyard. I do planning, plant research, etc. and my wife does the implementation. Automobile travel is another favorite pastime. When I acquired a new ramped mini-van, it put me back in the front seat as navigator and opened up whole new perspective on travels in the United States. In last two years, my wife and I have gone to two conferences, first in Boston and the following year in Providence, Rhode Island. We have gone to South Carolina and Alabama on winter breaks and traveled for three weeks to the Grand Canyon (seeing thirteen states) during May and June of 2001."

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