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Lisa Orr

lisa orr standing with husband and son


My research is related to vernacular cultural landscapes, places related to everyday life. Vernacular cultural landscapes are places that have evolved over time due to use by people -- they’re important, but they aren’t necessarily the Statue of Liberty. These are places where people lived and worked and played and, in some cases, have now been completely erased. For example, many cemeteries haven’t changed at all but there are dozens of 20th century coal company towns in West Virginia that are completely gone. I’m interested in places created and shaped by people.

I think the most interesting thing about my work at WVU has been learning about West Virginia. Although I was born in Maryland, I’m a native West Virginian. I have very deep roots in Preston County. For me, learning about West Virginia and West Virginians by way of landscape architecture has been really rewarding. I’m learning about my family, my personal history, as well as cultural landscapes.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was younger. I studied art history as an undergrad. I thought I’d be working in New York at a gallery. I went to grad school later in my twenties when I discovered landscape architecture through friends who were architects.

What year in school was your favorite and why?

I really loved - and this is probably because my son is in ninth grade - but I really loved ninth grade. We ruled the school. We were in charge. It was grades 7-9 as opposed to grades 6-8. We were old enough to sort of relish that responsibility. Also, academically, it was challenging.


What is something new you're learning?

This isn’t exactly outside my discipline, but there’s a new project I’m working on in the School of Design and Community Development that is with the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center and the EPA. I hope it will involve more hands-on actual landscape design, which I haven’t been able to do recently. I’m excited to get back into the professional practice of landscape architecture.

Parenting a teenager? That’s outside my field and completely new. I would definitely say that’s a big deal. I have one son and he turned 15 in October.

What's one class you wish you had taken in college?

I wish I had taken more science. I studied art history and I went to a liberal arts college, so we had a lot of leeway in terms of what we were able to take. I had one biology class and that was it. Science just didn’t align with my degree and I didn’t think I would be using it and I was very wrong. When I went back to graduate school for landscape architecture, I had an uphill climb in the science area of my degree. Now I understand the benefits of being more well-rounded in college.

What's a dream you have?

Probably something related to travel. I love to travel, and I really want to get back to Europe sometime in the near future. France is really high on my list. There’s so much landscape architecture there that I have not yet seen and experienced in person. As an educator, it’s really important to do that: to experience these landscapes that we’re talking about with our students.

What did you learn from 2020?

I think what I learned in 2020 was how important those family connections are. It was really difficult to be isolated from my parents for so long. I got to spend quality time in Pittsburgh where I live with my immediate family, but to be isolated from my extended family was really painful.



Just for Fun

A book you've always wanted to read: The Overstory by Richard Powers

Most adventurous food you've tasted: Huitlacoche

Favorite band in college: Wilco

Dogs or cats? Both!