Please join us in welcoming our newest planner and landscape designer, Sara Zewde! With an MCP from MIT and a (currently underway) MLA from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Sara will work to bridge the two sides of our practice, while sharing our belief that good design can empower people. A native Houstonian, her past experience ranges from sustainable transportation planning in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the ITDP to landscape design in Oakland, California with Hood Studio. Sara aims to practice in such a way that each scale of work informs another, from garden to global. Ms. Zewde holds a belief that the histories and cultural spatial practices of people can serve as a creative departure for crafting site-specific designs that are formally and ecologically innovative. Sara and Zakcq have worked together in the past, co-editing a webmagazine titled Plurale Tantum.
Sara’s graduate thesis at MIT and her past practice aims to develop a theory of “Black Urbanism,” and derive a set of employable design principles. She belives that black communities contribute greatly to the liveliness and culture of American cities, however, these contributions are seldom meaningfully incorporated into the physical design process. The framework she creates is intended to fold Black Urban principles into a larger understanding of how cities function and thrive and the active role of designing new site-specific spaces.
In light of the search for a sustainable urbanism, the retrofitting of America’s urban landscapes offers a major opportunity to apply this approach, as much of what is considered “wasted landscape” may be disproportionately located in communities of color. Her work explores the history of the federal interstate system, its disproportionate construction in Black neighborhoods, and the growing argument for the removal of elevated expressways in cities’ urban core. In New Orleans, the Claiborne Expressway, a spur off of Interstate 10, runs through the heart of what is considered America’s first Black neighborhood,vand the neighborhood that birthed jazz. She explores the local manifestations of Black Urbanism on the street and describes the opportunities for a Black Urban design strategy to revive the sense of place and scale should the freeway be removed.