CONWAY, Mass. -- It’s a long way from Panama to this rustic western Massachusetts town. But that’s the journey Paul Cawood Hellmund, Director of the Conway School, has made.
The institution’s unique, intensive graduate program in landscape design is celebrating its 40th year of producing practical scholars who stand at the connection of land use, environmental protection, and design.
Hellmund is the college’s third director, following the veritable Don Walker. Hellmund’s multi-faceted charge is centered upon helping students participate, during their days at Conway, in real projects that are focused on providing actual solutions for genuine clients in the community.
In addition, the Conway masters degree focuses upon a curriculum that includes the humanities, sustainable landscape design theory, natural systems, design communications graphics, technical design issues, along with professional development and practice.
"When people visit our website," said Hellmund, "they are inspired by the projects developed by our students. I fell in love with the school and its beautiful environment the moment I came here, back in 2005. I sensed a strong commitment to community both here at the school and to the world-at-large."
A native of Panama, Hellmund grew up in the Central American country of close to three million. His father worked on the legendary canal that links
The Hellmund family moved to Colorado his senior year in high school. Paul graduated from Sargent High in Monte Vista before earning a B.S. in landscape horticulture and design from Colorado State in 1977. He added a masters degree in landscape architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design 6 years later.
A perfect blend of scholar, teacher, and professional, Hellmund is the co-author of "Designing Greenways" (2006) and co-editor of "Ecology of Greenways." Paul received a prestigious national award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for the latter book. His work experience includes managing his own private practice, Hellmund Associates, and serving at the U.S. National Park Service.
He’s also taught undergraduates and grad students at Colorado State, Virginia Tech, and Harvard University. At Conway, Hellmund is both director and a member of the core faculty while serving as the college’s president.
"Located as we are in a scenic hilltown," said Hellmund, "we have the ability to respond to teaching opportunities immediately. The whole valley is part of our learning laboratory. If you would like to take a field trip, your school usually needs a year or so to get permission and financing lined up in advance. Here we have prior arrangements with two teaching sites: Wildside Gardens (owned by Sue Bridge), a ten-minute walk from the Conway School, and the New England Wild Flower Society (the oldest plant conservation organization in the nation, situated at Nasami Farm in Whately."
The natural touch is evident in all things Conway. The graduate program in sustainable landscape planning and design isn’t quartered in a pillared, ivy-clad edifice. Instead, the main building is a barn, elegantly retrofitted into a schoolhouse
immensely practical and comfortable. It’s conducive to classes, meetings, or working on your designs.
The Conway School was founded in 1972 by Walter Cudnohufsky, whose vision of teaching was a tad unconventional. "I wanted to get rid of the teacher," he said. "A faculty person was a co-learner." And so it has remained as nearly 600 graduates have brought their innovative ideas to more than 45 nations and more than 450 community clients around the globe.
This school year, the school has launched a program that involves the town of Brattleboro. Kimberly Smith of Westminster, Vt., the Brattleboro/Windham Fellow, is at work with the town and adjacent property owners. Their mission is to redesign the Harmony Parking lot behind Brooks House, making it, among other results, more aesthetically pleasing while improving its functionality: efficient parking, community identity enhancement, access to local businesses, and storm water management. Also being considered is the vision for a more community-centric landscape into the remainder of the parking lot, to be achieved by integrating determined space for pedestrians along with social gatherings.
"It’s quite a challenge," said Smith, "to try and pinpoint exactly what the community needs. The Harmony lot has a long history as a central location in Brattleboro and embodies much what the town is about culturally, socially, and economically. It’s a fascinating challenge to facilitate the best use of this space for the people who live here." Smith will submit the plans that result from her school project to the town’s Department of Public Works.
Community advisers for the initiative include Kate Anderson of the Town Arts Committee and Susan McMahon, Associate Director of the Windham Regional Commission.
Conway students, embarked on projects while at the school and, as graduates, emphasize that the way a town develops is not a mere matter of chance. Conversely, people must think and collaborate with others about making successful changes that benefit residents and visitors. This simple-sounding observation rises far above the level of platitude; in reality it’s honored more as an assumption than actually carried out.
A maximum of 19 students are admitted yearly to the Conway School. "One of our prime features," said Director Hellmund, "is that we have a graduate program without a bureaucracy. A lot of grad programs have similar size, but are attached to universities. I believe we have more flexibility and the chance to form a very strong sense of community. Overall, we are so much more than the sum of our parts."
The Conway School of Landscape Design is located at 332 South Deerfield Rd. For more information, please call Mollie Babize, Associate Director for Admissions and Outreach Development, at 413-369-4044, extension 5.
Conway projects in the area include the Franklin County Farmland and Foodshed Study, along with Feed Northampton: First Steps Toward a Local Food System and another project in the Paradise City. Bean and Allard Farms: Converging Visions for a Village Landscape where officials wanted to determine the best use of 185 acres of prime farmland. The Conway student team did an outstanding job in this project, which was controversial, setting off recreational field users against food and farm advocates. The students worked out a successful public participation and came up with alternative designs to equalize the competing needs of the two sides.