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MacArthur ‘Genius’ grant winners this year include two urban designers

Rewarding creative solutions for the built environment

The “Blake Hobbs Play-Za,” a playground-plaza hybrid in East Harlem, NY, designed by SCAPE.

Every year, the MacArthur Foundation bestows so-called “Genius Grants” upon some two dozen or so U.S.-based individuals excelling at creative work, awarding over half a million dollars each to continue their pursuits. In 2017, the honorees include two members of the design community: landscape architect Kate Orff and designer and urban planner Damon Rich.

Orff, founder of the New York City-based landscape architecture and urban design firm SCAPE, focuses on designing resilient landscapes that tackle climate change-related threats like sea-level rise and flooding, while bringing the public closer to the built environment. One of SCAPE’s biggest undertakings so far is Living Breakwaters, a winning proposal in the Rebuild by Design competition following Hurricane Sandy. Expected to begin construction in Tottenville, Staten Island, in 2018, the project incorporates both innovative in-water infrastructure (think “Oyster-tecture”!) and on-shore education and outreach.

Rich, who serves as the Planning Director and Chief Urban Designer for Newark, New Jersey, also co-founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a New York City non-profit that uses art and design to engage local communities in urban planning initiatives. And through Hector, an urban design, planning, and civic arts studio he currently co-leads, Rich works on everything from public park plans to bike racks.

Previous “Genius” grant-winning architects and designers include Jeanne Gang, Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Renfro, James Carpenter, and Samuel Mockbee.

Learn more about Orff and Rich’s work in the videos below.