Kate Orff

Kate Orff’s activist and visionary work on design for climate dynamics has been shared and developed in collaboration with arts institutions, governments, and scholars worldwide. She is an Associate Professor at Columbia GSAPP and Director of the Urban Design Program, where she coordinates complex interdisciplinary studios centered on urban systems of the future. Her design studios and seminars aim to discover new ways of integrating social life, infrastructure, urban form, biodiversity and community-based change.

Orff is a registered landscape architect and the founder of SCAPE, an award winning 30-person professional practice based in lower Manhattan, where she directs the design of all projects. The firm has won National and local American Society of Landscape Architecture Awards for built projects, planning and communications work, and the work of the office has been featured on the cover of Landscape Architecture magazine, LA China and Topos, and in The New York Times, New Yorker and Economist, among other publications.

As an Associate Professor at Columbia and as a practicing professional, she has advanced concepts of sustainable planning and urban design at multiple scales. Her book and traveling exhibit with Richard Misrach titled PETROCHEMICAL AMERICA (Aperture Foundation, 2012) draws a cognitive map of climate change causes and effects and anticipates future planning challenges for the American landscape. Featuring photographs by Misrach, the book links the lived experience of communities, degraded extraction landscapes and public health issues in the lower Mississippi to national patterns of resource consumption and global waste.

In the New York region, SCAPE’s LIVING BREAKWATERS project was awarded $60 million in CDBG-DR funding by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of the Rebuild by Design Initiative. This joint physical-social project in Raritan Bay helps protect Staten Island from future storms, enhances maritime ecosystems and connects residents and students to the shoreline via the Billion Oysters Project curriculum. This project also won the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, “socially responsible design’s highest award.” It projects a holistic view of human ecology as a path forward and represents a continuum of work that began with the Jamaica Bay study in 2006 and was visualized in ‘Oyster-tecture’ as part of the Rising Currents exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (2010) and - after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy - helped shape the debate on how to adapt and retool urban contexts relative to climate dynamics.

Kate Orff received an Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, reserved for American artists and design practitioners “whose work is characterized by a strong personal direction” and was named a 2017 MacArthur Foundation "genius" Fellow. She was named a United States Artist Fellow, and an Elle magazine “Planet Fixer.” She was inducted into the National Academy in 2013 for her work on new paradigms of thinking, collaborating and designing for the anthropocene era. Kate received a degree in Political and Social Thought from the University of Virginia with Distinction, and a Master in Landscape Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard.

In this eleventh episode of GSAPP Conversations, Kate Orff joins Dean Amale Andraos to discuss what it means to think across scales and connect our human life with the geological time scale, how traveling international studios allow students to better address challenges shared by otherwise very different cities, and teaching the reciprocity of physical design and social context.

“We are teaching our students very differently now, because they need to be able to operate differently in light of not only climate change, but also in light of very different political and social systems that characterize the urban context.”

MacArthur Foundation 2017 Fellowship Award

From the MacArthur Foundation: Kate Orff is designing adaptive and resilient urban habitats and encouraging residents to be active stewards of the ecological systems underlying our built environment.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.

Recent News
Oct 11
Kate Orff at GSAPP
Urban Design Director Kate Orff and Faculty Damon Rich receive 2017 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships
Among the 24 recipients of the MacArthur Foundation's 2017 Fellowships are Kate Orff, who directs Columbia GSAPP's Urban Design Program since 2015, and Urban Design faculty Damon Rich. The Fellowship is an extraordinary distinction and its selection criteria include "promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishments."
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Courses

Course Semester Title Student Work Instructor Syllabus Requirements & Sequence Location & Time Session & Points Call No.
A6851‑1 Spring 2018
Urban Design Studio III
Kate Orff, Ziad Jamaleddine, Laura Kurgan, Nora Akawi, Geeta Mehta, Julia Watson, Dilip da Cunha
M & TH 1:30 PM - 6 :30 PM, F 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Full Semester
9 Points
73646
A6832‑1 Fall 2017
Urban Seminar 2: Ecological Infrastructure
Kate Orff Urban Design Seminar
115 Avery
TU 11 AM - 1 PM
Full Semester
3 Points
86346