Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) is generally regarded as the father of American landscape architecture. Among his works in twenty-four U.S. states and Washington, D.C., is the iconic design of Central Park in New York City. In Atlanta, his legacy is seen in the Druid Hills neighborhood near Emory University.
Olmsted has served as an inspiration to generations of landscape designers and civil engineers. One of those who has been deeply inspired by Olmsted’s work is Georgia Tech alumnus Michael G. Messner. Messner and his wife Jenny recently established a planned gift that will create the Frederick Law Olmsted Chair in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Messner is a longtime admirer of Olmsted’s work. “My wife Jenny and I, through our family foundation, The Speedwell Foundation, funded a documentary on Olmsted in conjunction with the Redfields to Greenfields research led by the Georgia Tech Research Institute,” said Messner. “The gift is a thank you to Georgia Tech for both a great education and the transformational Redfields to Greenfields research the Institute led.
“A self-trained engineer, Olmsted ensured that engineering projects—such as fresh water for New York City or flood control for Boston—included social benefits as well, especially using green space,” said Messner. “As a result, New York has Central Park and Boston has its Emerald Necklace. Atlanta has the Druid Hills neighborhood, and many other cities are much more livable.”
It is fitting to name an endowed faculty chair in Olmsted’s memory, Messner says, because his works are as important today as they were when they were created.
“Olmsted thought of his efforts as furthering the democratic civilization and improving the urban environment,” said Messner. “His life and work can be a great example to young engineers to help them understand fully what it means to be a true ‘civil’ and ‘environmental’ engineer—it’s about our society and our environment.”
“The Frederick Law Olmsted Chair has tremendous potential, now more than ever,” said Reginald DesRoches, the Karen and John Huff School Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering. “A critical issue we are facing as a nation is the maintenance and rebuilding of our aging infrastructure to ensure the quality of life for future generations of Americans. Our hope is that the holder of the Olmsted Chair will prompt our students and alumni who are engaged in this process to think creatively about how our cities and suburbs can be made more livable in the process of updating our infrastructure. Mike and Jenny Messner are exceptionally thoughtful and civic-minded people who have given us a unique opportunity to imagine and build a better future. We are very grateful.”
(Note: This story was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of Campaign Quarterly)