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DDes Student-Practitioner Expands Conversation about Climate Change

Teresa Buckwalter NC State Design DDes student practitioner

Teresa Buckwalter NC State Design DDes student practitioner

When landscape architect Teresa Buckwalter moved to Boone, North Carolina, in 2012, there weren’t any landscape architecture firms, so she started her own. Then in 2018, she sold that firm and started Mosaic Civic Studio, a startup firm to help rural communities reinvent themselves by rebranding and creating new places for people to engage and enjoy life. And, in the fall of 2018, she became one of eight students in the first cohort of the College of Design’s new Doctor of Design (DDes) program. Buckwalter is a busy practitioner, and she is exactly the type of student the DDes program was created for.

Teresa interacting with LAR faculty_2
Teresa Buckwalter interacting with Professor of Architecture Art Rice (L) and Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Fernando Magallanes (R).

“I was looking a bit at the PhD program, but when I found the DDes program, I was like ‘wow, this is exactly what I was looking for.’ It’s flexible, and I see it as really informing my practice,” Buckwalter says. Living in Boone, Buckwalter also appreciates the blended design of the DDes program. Students can work and research from a distance and only need to come to campus once each semester. “I get to stay in the mountains and be connected to this larger community. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s worthwhile,” she says. In addition to the program’s flexibility, NC State was appealing to Buckwalter because of the College of Design’s prestigious reputation and the faculty she would be working with. Buckwalter also enjoys working with her DDes cohort made up of student-practitioners from other disciplines. “I love the interaction with user-experience people and industrial design and graphic design. All these areas help us break down the silos and expand our thinking,” she says.

“What I hope my research will do is give landscape architects a way of talking and interacting with people and rural communities that value those places and those people and their insights.” —Teresa Buckwalter

Buckwalter will be using her time in the program to research climate change resiliency in the rural United States, specifically the Appalachian region. This is a topic she is interested in and passionate about but also something that she says can inform her practice. “What I hope my research will do is give landscape architects a way of talking and interacting with people and rural communities that value those places and those people and their insights.” Buckwalter says that we cannot address climate change without working with rural communities, specifically in a manner that addresses their unique characteristics. “If we’re not listening to them, then we’re missing the boat as a profession.”

“Rural places could be really helpful in terms of energy production with wind energy or carbon sequestration or flood management,” Buckwalter says. But solutions need to be tailor made and created in conversation with the communities. With this in mind, Buckwalter is focusing her research on how this can be achieved. It’s still early in the process, so she’s not sure what her final presentation of findings will look like, but she is thinking along the lines of theory development or even a toolkit of sorts. Whatever shape it takes, Buckwalter believes it needs to function as an aid to landscape architects and to communities in exchanging ideas and generating solutions.

Increasingly, rural communities in Appalachia are recognizing climate change and the role they play in environmental stewardship, such as protecting headwaters, but their involvement in planning for climate change is not always recognized. “I don’t want [these rural communities] left out of this conversation about what we do about climate change. Rural places could also tell us as professionals what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable because it’s not going to come top down. It’s got to come from communities accepting, adapting, changing, and creating their own solutions or making the solution that professionals have better.”

Staci Kleinmaier is a professional writer and photographer in Apex, North Carolina. She uses words and images to tell stories. To see her work, visit