Bob Lundgren, Landscape Architect

Bob Lundgren
April 15, 2010

As the University’s Landscape Architect within Facilities and Real Estate Services, Bob is the overseer of all things that are literally green at Penn. He is responsible for determining ideal locations for everything from trees to flowers, plants, walkways, and more.

In March, Bob worked with students from various environmental groups to design the new Penn Garden, which recently broke ground next to Rodin College House.

He also joined Penn students, faculty, staff, and community volunteers last week to plant 46 trees on College Green as Penn was named a national Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation.

On College Green: What made you want to become a landscape architect? Does design and architecture run in the family?

Bob Lundgren: Yes, since childhood I’ve spent much of my time studying science and art, as well as being outdoors… gardening, camping or on many picnics with my family. My father was an architect for about 60 years and designed all the schools I went to, so reading blueprints and building plans were second nature from a very young age… I think then I realized you could design outdoor spaces as well. So, I got a degree in Plant Science, a minor in Fine Art and a Masters in Landscape Architecture. My older brother went to art school and is in interior design in Wilmington, Delaware, and my older sister went to art school and became a painter and glass artist in Montreal.

OCG: How do you decide what gets planted on campus? Are there mostly native species?

BL: Having gone to school during the ecological planning era under the guidance of people like Ian McHarg, Ecological Planner, Landscape Architect, Author and all around environmental advocate, native plant use was taught and became second nature to us. Further, not only was native plant material stressed, but also the study of the environment and what is the most appropriate use of the conditions you’re working with. That said, often non–native plant material is used that may have similar characteristics but may not be native to this particular region. There are many other considerations such as design intentions, quality, longevity, availability and invasive tendencies of a plant, etc… I could go on, but won’t. Still, last count, the campus is about 65% native plantings and we encourage it whenever we can.

OCG: Do you have a favorite type of tree?

BL: I suppose the white oak, big, long lived and beautiful….but it’s a tough question to answer as there are so many trees and that fit into so many different and great  places ….all have their own special qualities.

OCG: What’s your favorite outdoor space on campus?

BL: Another tough question, it depends on mood or time of day…season etc. but I’ll have to say College Green.  It has so many qualities; history, ceremony, beauty, sun and shade, private or grouped benches…it’s ‘home’ to Penn, the true heart of the campus.

OCG: What’s the biggest change to the campus that you’ve seen since you’ve been at Penn?

BL: I’ve been here quite a few years, and when Ben Franklin and I were planning out the campus we wanted to make sure that the quality of the spaces remains consistent throughout the campus as buildings are added and the campus develops. Now, after all these years I can say that I’m most impressed by the acres and acres of new walks and planted areas added since the College Green renovation of the late 1970’s. And I have to add that much of the credit goes to the generous gifts of alumni and an administration committed to the campus environment that has made this campus one of the most beautiful urban campuses in the nation.

OCG: Which one of your projects do you think has had the most impact on the sustainability of the Penn community?

BL: Well, I consider the campus as my project.  Some of the gardens and spaces I’ve designed myself and some have been designed by the talented Landscape Architectural community of Philadelphia and beyond. One of my favorite aspects of our projects is that we try to re use/recycle paving stones on campus. When a building or street is demolished we salvage what we can of the stone and use it in new gardens and plazas. Back in the 1970’s the ‘Peace Park’ amphitheater was constructed from curbstones of the former 36th street. That tradition continues and places like the Class of 1959 Plaza at Locust Walk & 37th Street Walk, the garden at the Civic House, the Writers Garden and others are all made from reused stone.
Also, for about 20 years now we have been composting our leaves for reuse on the turf areas and are currently expanding this practice with the development of the new Penn Park.

OCG: After Penn was designated a national Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation last week, you worked with students, faculty, staff, and community members to plant over 40 trees on College Green… What was it like working with all those people, and what do you hope they took away from the event?

BL: We’re proud to be recognized for all the tree work we do. And, of course it was fabulous to see such a great turnout.  The weather was beautiful, the volunteers were full of energy and the Arbor Day folks couldn’t have been more pleased. It’s funny, I’ve planted or have been part of planting thousands of trees on this campus and it never gets old seeing both the addition of new trees and the reactions from all the participants. Our friends from the Morris Arboretum, Tree Tenders and UC Green guided groups of volunteers in the planting of the trees which included digging holes, loosening up the roots and backfilling the holes properly….oh and watering… don’t forget to water! Our Urban Park staff was invaluable in helping coordinate and tie up loose ends.   I know the volunteers learned a lot from this experience, as there’s nothing like ‘hands on’ work.  Some of the volunteers were heard saying “Yes! I planted a tree!” or ”That was more work than I thought?!” All too often it is mistakenly assumed that the landscape is just there. My hope is that people become more aware of both the landscape environment, and what it takes to create and maintain it. Also, instilling a bit of ownership and being part of the process works wonders… after all, it’s everybody’s Green.

OCG: We hear you ride a motorcycle… Was that purchase an environmentally motivated decision, or do you just like to wear leather jackets?

BL: Definitely the jacket, it’s all about the jackets…. well, maybe not really. I started riding motorcycles many years ago when I was a kid and it just stuck…must be part of the outdoors thing. My current bike I bought as the result of a design competition award a few years back.  I have to say there’s nothing like riding a motorcycle to work in the winter when it’s 30 degrees out… not to mention the wind chill factor!  I do get 50+ miles per gallon, so it is better than most cars and it puts you right in the middle of everything, especially the environment!

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