Historic Preservation

Posted April 24, 2015
  • Dell Upton speaking on therapeutic institutions.
  • Theodore Eisenman speaking on urban greenery.

Therapeutic Landscape Symposium

Green Space Through Time

PennDesign’s Therapeutic Landscape Symposium was an opportunity for people engaged in scholarship, design, and public health to reflect on the development of this complex and dynamic concept in the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps most importantly, the symposium opened an examination of how the framework set up by past understandings and functions of the therapeutic landscape impacts current design research and interventions. The event’s principal organizer was Assistant Professor Aaron Wunsch who teaches in Historic Preservation and Landscape Architecture. Partners in planning this event and the speakers came from a myriad of backgrounds including history of science, public health, art history, architecture, and planning. Professor Dell Upton from UCLA was the keynote speaker and the sessions were divided into three topics: Atmospherics, Control, and Cities as Therapeutic Landscapes.

Charles Branas, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Urban Health Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke about issues of blight in legacy cities such as Philadelphia and the research being undertaken by the Urban Health Lab to inform decisions for “structural, scalable, and sustainable” design solutions to promote health and safety in the city. Through biosensing with heart rate monitors and GPS tracking, the lab has undertaken studies to demonstrate how vacant properties impact stress levels and how cleaning and greening vacant lots and repairing residential fabric can reduce violent crime in neighborhoods.

Speaker Theodore Eisenman, a recent graduate from PennDesign and current researcher at the New York Botanical Garden, problematized the idea that plants in cities, such as street trees, have a positive impact on health. Eisenman demonstrated that studies have shown that urban trees actually negatively impact air quality by trapping pollutants in their canopies and releasing allergens. He posits that arguments for urban greenery can and should be made because of positive effects to mental health and stress levels. This is an idea being actively promoted by the Biophilic Cities project. The idea that connection with the natural world can have a positive impact on physical and mental health has been a hallmark of the concept of therapeutic landscapes since the 19th century. What is shifting is our understanding of how and where natural systems and materials should be deployed.


Angelina R. Jones is a dual degree student studying historic preservation and landscape architecture at PennDesign. She is originally from Tucson, Arizona and still loves the Sonoran desert more than any other place in the world. Her research interests include cultural landscapes and the way people navigate their everyday spaces.