Kate Orff, 2017 MacArthur Fellow
Courtesy the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Kate Orff, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Among the 24 people named in the 2017 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are landscape architect Kate Orff and urban planner and designer Damon Rich. This year’s recipients of what are informally known as the MacArthur “genius grants” will receive $625,000 over five years to use at their own discretion. Criteria for selection, according to the foundation’s website, are straightforward: “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a [proven] track record,” and the potential for the award to “facilitate subsequent creative work.”

Orff is the founding principal of New York–based landscape architecture and urban design studio SCAPE, as well as an associate professor and the director of the Urban Design program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). SCAPE’s work includes Living Breakwaters, a winning submission by a multidisciplinary team for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition that proposes to mitigate rising sea levels and flooding due to extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy with “a necklace of breakwaters designed to support the growth of oyster reefs and other marine habitats,” according to the MacArthur Foundation’s online profile of Orff. The project is anticipated to start construction in late 2018, according to New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery.

In 2010, Orff gave a TED Talk on “oyster-tecture” as a means to remediate New York’s rivers and invigorate marine life. Her studio’s projects also include the design of several city parks, including the Blake Hobbs Play-Za in East Harlem; several publications, including Toward an Urban Ecology (Moncelli Press, 2016); and to the design of self-guided audio tours to encourage city residents to become more familiar with the places they call home, such as the Water Walk for Lexington, Ky.

Orff earned a Bachelor of Arts in political and social thought from the University of Virginia, and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Damon Rich is a partner at Hector, an urban design, planning, and civic arts studio based in Newark, N.J., where he was the former planning director and chief urban designer for the city. The studio’s projects include the design and planning for several parks, cities, and neighborhoods, including the Newark riverfront and Mifflin Square Park in South Philadelphia. In 1997, Rich also founded the Center for Urban Pedagogy, a nonprofit organization based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that increases civic engagement through educational programs involving design and the arts.

Damon Rich, 2017 MacArthur Fellow
Courtesy the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Damon Rich, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Rich’s work includes several installations, including the “Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center,” which explored lessons in real estate finance with “Sesame Street graphics,” according to the description written for the Queens Museum, in Queens, N.Y.; and “Space Brainz,” a mini-survey of Hector’s work on controversial architecture and real estate development installed at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. A smattering of line-drawing studies and videos are also on Damon Rich’s own website.

Rich is a trained architect who attended Deep Springs College in California and earned a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University, where he is also an adjunct associate professor at Columbia GSAPP.

Past MacArthur grant recipients in architecture and design include 1999 fellows Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, AIA, founding partners of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in New York; 2000 fellow Samuel Mockbee, co-founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio; 2008 fellow John Ochsendorf, currently the director of the American Academy in Rome; and 2011 recipient Jeanne Gang, FAIA, founding principal of Studio Gang Architects, in Chicago.

A full list of this year’s MacArthur Fellows and an archive of past grant recipients are available the MacArthur Foundation’s website.