June 10, 2010
Robin Irizarry Jr. has always had an interest in nature and science in addition to a natural gift for expressing his ideas by taking pencil to paper to create elaborate drawings.
It wasn’t until he entered college — initially in Temple University’s Civil Engineering program — that he discovered a field of study that perfectly blended his passions.
“I was looking for something that was an outlet for my creativity, something that combined art with being in the outdoors. I was on the Ambler Campus Web site and found information about Landscape Architecture — at first I didn’t even know what that was or what it entailed,” said Irizarry, 24, of East Greenville. “I saw a picture of a student in waders standing in a creek conducting research. I said ‘I want to do that!’ It was all of my interests in one curriculum.”
To honor Irizarry’s dedication to the field, and in particular his exemplary drawing and design skill, he was presented with the first John F. Collins Drawing Award at the 2010 School of Environmental Design Graduation Ceremony held at Ambler as part of Temple University’s 123rd Commencement celebration in May.
“The Landscape Architecture faculty elected (Irizarry) to receive this award for the excellent drawings and graphics that he has developed in four years as a Landscape Architecture student in the School of Environmental Design, part of Temple’s College of Liberal Arts. We also noted his special interest in, and knowledge of, plants and wildlife, which we know would please John Collins greatly,” wrote Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture Chair Dr. Mary Myers in a letter to Irizarry announcing the award. “(Irizarry’s) reports of plant and habitat developments in the Ambler Arboretum indicate an appreciation of the local plant and animal communities, in keeping with Collins’ approach. His congenial and helpful attitude toward his fellow students has contributed to their understanding of graphic and design techniques.”
The John F. Collins Drawing Award is named in honor of John Collins, chair of Temple’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture from 1988 to 1998 — he was instrumental in establishing four-year degree programs in both disciplines — and a respected practitioner who designed beautiful public spaces, pocket parks, and greenways in Philadelphia.
“(Collins) believed that landscape architecture and horticulture brought a civilizing influence to cities and his work attests to that,” said Pauline Hurley-Kurtz, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture who helped to establish the new award. “He was an early advocate of the use of locally native plant species and some of the Ambler Campus’ most significant plantings reflect his approach. Mr. Collins was a wonderful illustrator and draughtsman as well as a prolific designer.”
The John F. Collins Drawing Award is generously supported by the Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects with a $500 honorarium. As part of the award, Irizarry was also presented with a framed copy of a drawing by John Collins provided by the School of Environmental Design Alumni Association.
Irizarry received a color print of a perspective drawing “from the Sea Change sequence depicting a farmers market in the proposed Sea Change complex in Philadelphia,” according to Hurley-Kurtz.
“I was thrilled when I heard about receiving the award. I’ve spent much time on the second floor of the Ambler Learning Center looking at (Collins’) work. His hand drawn work is so clean and there is so much attention to detail,” said Irizarry, the 2009-10 American Society of Landscape Architecture’s (ASLA) Honor Award recognizing excellence in design, drawing, and graphic work. “He’s a role model to me, particularly in my approach to graphics. I want to make my designs as clear as possible for my clients.”
According to Linda Lowe, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Temple University Ambler, the Collins family is making a donation of the bulk of the John Collins Retrospective Exhibit, which has been on display in the Ambler Learning Center for several years, to the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture and the School of Environmental Design.
“This will establish the permanent John Collins Drawing Collection and it is really a wonderful gift! Faculty and students refer to the drawings all the time, especially in graphics and studio courses,” she said. “We are developing permanent text for each of the drawings. Establishing the John F. Collins Drawing Award has also been part of this project — the Collins family was delighted with the idea of ‘bringing it all full circle.’”
Irizarry said one of the greatest aspects of the Landscape Architecture program is something that Collins established from the get go — “the close relationship between landscape architecture and horticulture.”
“Classes like Woody Plants were my first introduction to plant material and I fell in love with it. I’m very passionate about using native plants — it drives all of the designs that I do,” said Irizarry, who is currently working for Land Stewards in Quakertown, a landscape design and build firm that works exclusively with native plants. “Of course you look at the aesthetics of what you’re developing, but I want to create dynamic designs that serve multiple functions; designs that are pleasing to the eye but also provide animal habitats, for example.”
Irizarry said his ultimate goal is to work in public open spaces, “developing educational spaces that highlight stormwater filtration and habitat creation.” He has also developed a keen interest in ecological restoration in urban settings, he said.
“I grew up and lived most of my life in Philadelphia,” he said. “I would love to go back and revitalize the streamways to create habitat and healthy open space for everyone to enjoy.”
And the waders that had interested Irizarry so much when he first discovered the Landscape Architecture program? Despite not being typical in landscape architecture practice, Irizarry still managed to replicate the image with his own experiences in the program.
“I worked on an ecological restoration project in my senior year with (Adjunct Assistant Professor) John Munro. There I was standing in a stream in waders,” he said. “I became that student in the photo and I couldn’t have been happier.”