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 a 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. She was awarded a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship.
Orff is a registered landscape architect and the founder of SCAPE, an award winning 70-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 a Professor at Columbia and as a practicing professional, she has advanced concepts of sustainable planning and urban design at multiple scales. Orff recently contributed the essay “Mending the Landscape” to the publication All We Can Save (One World, 2020). 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.