Sasaki is delighted to announce the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has bestowed its inaugural Emerging Professionals Medal upon associate and landscape architect, Diana Fernandez, ASLA — a well-deserved honor for one of Sasaki’s most talented rising leaders.
The new award was created this year to recognize an individual within their first decade of practice who has demonstrated “exceptional leadership and considerable contribution to the profession of landscape architecture, the prospective recipient’s community, and/or a firm or design team; early in one’s career.”
Fernandez was nominated by luminaries in the field, including Michael Grove, ASLA, Sasaki Chair of Landscape Architecture, Civil Engineering, and Ecology; Gina Ford, FASLA, founder of Agency Landscape + Planning and Sasaki alum; Breeze Outlaw, associate ASLA, Sasaki landscape designer; Kona Gray, FASLA, Edsa principal; Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, Olin CEO and partner; and Mark Focht, PLA, FASLA, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer New York City Parks and Recreation.
Read their full set of nomination letters here.
“It’s truly an honor to be recognized as the inaugural recipient of the Emerging Professionals Medal. My work has been defined by an incredible collective of individuals that have cultivated my thinking, my ambitions and my work. I share this honor with them and my family who has supported me every step of the way,” says Fernandez. She continues,
"This is just the beginning for me and I look eagerly towards our future with great optimism and hope. Change is here, and it’s the embrace of our differences that makes our world a better place and I certainly have a unremitting devotion to realizing that change in the profession of landscape architecture."
Diana Fernandez, ASLA
Chair of landscape architecture, Civil Engineering, and Ecology, Michael Grove, ASLA, submitted the following letter nominating Fernandez for the award, celebrating the many accomplishments and contributions Fernandez has already made to Sasaki and the profession at large within just a few years:
Throughout my career, I have met many ambitious and motivated young professionals — landscape architects who believe that our profession’s purpose is to bring good into the world. Diana Fernandez Bibeau rises above the crowd. Her passion, dedication, and empathy allows her to shine brighter, work harder, and cultivate a culture of collaboration that is extraordinary. Five years into her tenure at Sasaki, Diana is thriving. She is one of our brightest emerging design voices, and her professional growth is nothing short of remarkable. Diana’s project leadership abilities, corporate citizenship at the firm, and contribution to the profession at large are unequaled.
In her time at Sasaki, Diana has helped to transform our practice, encouraging us think beyond traditional understandings of community engagement and evolve such that embracing diversity and fostering equity is part of our core ethos. Diana’s unique personal and professional experiences have provided her with a skillset unlike many others. Her leadership on projects around the country in cities including Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Lakeland, Florida have brought a unique perspective, often resulting in a bold change to the design that the team had previously overlooked. Her acute ability to understand how marginalized and underrepresented communities respond to, interact with, and celebrate public space is a direct result of her background as a second generation American with parents who immigrated to Philadelphia from the Dominican Republic. This insight inspires her teams to rethink how to create culturally appropriate and significant landscapes — not through the traditional toolkits of public meetings and constituent feedback, but by a deep analysis of the tangible elements that make people from various cultural backgrounds relate to public space differently.
Diana’s tenacity and drive compel her to work through various solutions, approaching problems from many angles. She does this while embracing the team around her, and encouraging others to contribute and have a voice. This type of leadership is unique, and extends far beyond project work. Diana’s contribution on recent projects had led to more nuanced design thinking. At the Wilmington Waterfront Promenade at the Port of Los Angeles, she has been an advocate for social justice in a historically marginalized community. At Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland, Florida, she identified strategies to make the park more accessible for and inclusive of minority neighborhoods adjacent to the park. Both of these projects would not have been as powerful without Diana’s influence. Diana has also guided the firm into new territory, championing projects that have the potential for significant social impact. Recently, she led the site design for the Sasaki / Mass Design Group entry for the Pulse Memorial Competition in Orlando, which presented a healing experience for survivors of the tragedy and noted by the jury as the most compelling and sympathetic landscape ideas from all of the entries. In Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, she is collaborating with a diverse team of artists and community leaders on the Frederick Douglass Memorial to immortalize the abolitionist after racist mobs assembled after his speech at Tremont Temple. Most importantly, Diana models her values in her daily interactions. She has collaborated with nearly everyone at the firm, all of whom all agree that Diana adds much more to the work than can be described in words. This is because Diana’s contribution isn’t simply professional, it’s personal. She is one of the most empathetic, supportive, and intellectually curious people I have ever worked with, and is a natural teacher, mentor, and friend.
Contribution to the Profession
Diana’s advocacy for diversity, equity, and inclusion extends far beyond her project work or her internal efforts at Sasaki. She has also been one of the most effective recent voices on the national stage. In 2016, Diana was featured alongside Kona Gray, Lucinda Sanders, Mark Rios, and Ron Sims in a general session titled “Designing for Diversity / Diversity in Design” at the ASLA annual conference in New Orleans, where she discussed the often messy topic from a very personal and relatable perspective.
She participated in the 2015 ASLA Diversity Summit, and has written multiple articles on the importance of diversity in the profession, including one published in “The Field” reflecting on the Black in Design conference at the Harvard.
In the November 2019 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, Diana interviewed Vicki Estrada, reflecting on her career and how issues of gender identity and ethnic heritage influenced her work.
She also currently serves on Landscape Architecture Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee, the ASLA Leadership Development Committee, and the ASLA Finance and Investment Committee.
Her recent selection in the 2019-2020 cohort of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership will allow her to further develop her voice and provide valuable thought leadership to the profession. Her topic, “Heterogeneous Futures: A Framework for Ecologically and Culturally Diverse Landscapes” evolves the conversation of diversity beyond metrics by attempting to get at the root of the issue from the perspective of what we as landscape architects do best – physical design. Her research is already yielding valuable insights on how the collective experiences of people inhabiting public space may encourage us to reconsider the traditional design theory.
Diana’s visibility also extends far beyond the profession. Through her work with communities and with students, Diana is an inspiration for young people of color who are either unaware of landscape architecture as a career path, or don’t see many people like them reflected in the profession. It is with unbound belief in Diana as a model for the direction the profession should be heading that I recommend her for the inaugural ALSA Emerging Professional Medal. I have every confidence that she will continue to support the next generation of landscape architects, and inspire all of us to become more awakened practitioners.
Grove is joined by the rest of Sasaki in congratulating Diana Fernandez on this tremendous, well deserved honor.