With appointment of Lisa Delplace, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts again gains a landscape architect

In The Right Place

With appointment of Lisa Delplace, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts again gains a landscape architect

Lisa Delplace, FASLA (Jessica Marcotte Photography/Courtesy ASLA)

Yesterday, a notable imbalance on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) was corrected with the intended appointment of landscape architect Lisa E. Delplace, principal and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden (OvS), as its newest commissioner.

In the early months of Joe Biden’s presidency, his administration requested the immediate resignation of four members of the CFA in what was viewed as a major and unprecedented shake-up of the powerful, seven-member independent federal agency established in 1910. All four commissioners to go, including chair Justin Shubow, were Trump appointees. The sole landscape architect to serve on the commission at the time, Perry Guillot, was also among the four commissioners shown the door by the White House.

Biden’s cohort of new appointees—Peter D. Cook, Justin Garrett Moore, Hazel Ruth Edwards, and Billie Tsien as new chair—resulted in a CFA markedly more diverse than Trump had left it in the end: all-male and all-white. The administration was roundly applauded for its selection of appointees, which included celebrated architects, academics, and with Moore, a transdisciplinary designer and urbanist. Notably lacking was a landscape architect.

Last June, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) urged the Biden administration to add more landscape architects to the commission, noting that its current composition was nearly unheard of—only once before in the long history of the CFA, from 1994–200, had it been without a single landscape architect. (During the Obama administration there were three: Elizabeth Meyer, Liza Gilbert, and Mia Lehrer).

In a press statement, Torey Carter-Conneen, CEO of the ASLA, decried the omission of a landscape architect from the commission, noting it to be “detrimental to the future of the Capital area, and how it is used by local residents, visitors and federal employees.

“When it comes to planning for public spaces, monuments, climate change, and even security, these are all within the purview of landscape architects, and have been since the field was first established in the 19th century,” Carter-Conneen said.

Among the original members of the commission was Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. who served from 1910 to 1918, the last six of those years as vice-chair.

Reacting to yesterday’s news of Delplace’s intended appointment to the commission, Carter-Conneen said: “We thank and applaud President Biden for reaffirming the importance and value of having the counsel of a landscape architect on this important federal agency. Lisa will help shape the future of our nation’s capital, an evolving cultural landscape.”

Delplace, who is a Fellow of the ASLA, has enjoyed a more than 30-year career with an award-winning firm that has worked extensively in and around Washington, D.C. “Her diverse body of work ranges from bucolic sculpture parks to urban redevelopments and reflects a compelling sculptural relationship between architecture and landscape,” wrote the White House in its announcement. As noted by the ASLA, major OvS projects in D.C. include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Francis Scott Key Memorial Park, and Virginia Avenue Garden at the Federal Reserve. “The Commission and our nation will benefit tremendously from Lisa’s broad expertise across multiple scales of landscape architecture and her experience with federal projects,” said ASLA President Eugenia Martin.

Per her firm bio, Delplace holds a Masters of Landscape Architecture degree from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Science degree in Park Planning and Design from Michigan State University.

Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) was also quick to applaud Delplace’s appointment to the CFA and stress the importance of her presence on the commission.

“Lisa, who has practiced in Washington, D.C. for decades and who has appeared frequently before the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, is a seasoned professional with international experience, a talented designer, and extremely knowledgeable about the landscape architecture legacy of the nation’s capital, qualifications needed at the Commission, where at least 70 percent of the projects considered involve landscape,” Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of TCLF, told AN in a statement. “The Biden Administration is to be praised for this appointment and encouraged to add another landscape architect.”

Like all members of the CFA, Delplace will serve a four-year term. It is unclear at the time of this writing as to who, if anyone, Delplace will replace on the commission as the terms of the three remaining Trump appointees—James C. McCrery, II, Rodney Mims Cook, Jr., and Duncan G. Stroik—do not expire in the immediate future. We will update this story when we learn more.