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2021 LAF Medal & Founders' Award

Karen A. Phillips, FASLA, and the Mayors’ Institute on City Design have been named as this year's honorees.

Launched in 2016 in conjunction with LAF’s 50th anniversary, the LAF Medal and Founders’ Award are annual awards that honor those who have made a significant and sustained contribution to LAF’s mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment. The LAF Medal is awarded to an impactful individual while the LAF Founders’ Award honors a firm, agency, or organization.


LAF Medal

Karen A. Phillips, FASLA

The LAF Medal is conveyed to a landscape architect for distinguished work in applying the principles of sustainability to landscapes over a career. Honorees come from private practice, academia, nonprofit and public sectors, exemplify the values of LAF, and have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the landscape architecture discipline. The 2021 LAF Medal goes to Karen A. Phillips, FASLA.

Credited as a leading figure of the second Harlem Renaissance, Karen is known to her friends and colleagues as someone with a steadfast commitment to equitable and sustainable urban development. Her career spanned real estate, urban planning and revitalization, environmental design, community development, and public service.

As CEO of Harlem’s Abyssinian Development Corporation, she used historic preservation and architectural rehabilitation to uphold the neighborhood’s physical fabric, revitalize landmarks, and created affordable housing in tandem with economic development, civic engagement, and social services. Karen later established and served as Director of the Office of Sustainability at New York State Homes and Community Renewal, which resulted in policies, programs, and coordination with other public and private partners to promote energy efficiency and resiliency in economically challenged communities. Prior to that position she was the New York City Regional Director for New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, following nearly 10 years as an appointed member of the New York City Planning Commission.

Through a hands-on approach, Karen translated lessons learned from Harlem to numerous redevelopment projects. She has been a champion for disadvantaged communities, bringing a landscape architecture perspective to influential positions that incorporated equity and sustainability, and contributed to the production of jobs through many different forums.

LAF Medal and Founders' Award Committee

Karen earned a BLA from the University of Georgia, where she was recently selected as one of the “Owens 50” from the College of Environment and Design for trailblazing and visionary alumni, and an MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 1994 to 1998 she served on the LAF Board of Directors, and over the years served on numerous committees of ASLA. She contributed to the formation of the Black Landscape Architects Network (BlackLAN), which works to increase the visibility, support the interests, and foster the impact of Black practitioners and students in landscape architecture and continues to serve on the BlackLAN fundraising committee. Recently retired, Karen is engaged in documenting her experiences in rebuilding communities sustainably, shares her expertise through her consulting firm, and serves on the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum Board of Trustees.

"I am humbled to have been chosen for this prestigious LAF Medal. The landscape architecture profession has greatly influenced the projects, programs, and organizations in which I have been privileged to contribute my skills.  My practice has taken the path of nonprofits and public service, and I am proud to have helped improve the living conditions and aesthetics of communities, where residents have little control of their environment, through just and equitable development."

LAF proudly recognizes Karen’s expansive career, passionate advocacy, and diligent commitment to sustainability for all with the award of the 2021 LAF Medal.

LAF Founders’ Award

MICD logo

The LAF Founders’ Award is conveyed to a firm, agency, or organization that demonstrates a significant commitment to preserving, improving, or enhancing landscapes over a sustained period of time. The 2021 LAF Founders’ Award goes to the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD).

MICD is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors. MICD organizes technical assistance workshops where mayors engage leading design and development experts to find solutions to the most critical planning and design challenges facing their cities. Sessions are organized around case study projects, where each mayor presents a project from his or her city for feedback from other mayors and design professionals.

MICD has had a longstanding and consistent impact through the tangible improvements that have materialized through its workshops. The initiative reveals overlooked possibilities of public space to city officials while demonstrating the value of landscape architecture.

LAF Medal and Founders' Award Committee

Since its inception in 1986, MICD has enlisted landscape architects in its efforts to transform cities, including the likes of Laurie Olin, Mia Lehrer, Walter Hood, and many more. MICD has a significant track record of advocating for the role of design in tackling important environmental, social, and economic issues and effectively conveying the value of landscape solutions to local elected officials. Their work has touched over 640 diverse cities and towns across the US, addressing the unique challenges and considerations of each.

“At MICD, we strive to infuse justice, equity, and sustainability in all of our work with mayors. Nowhere is this more important than the public realm, and consistently, it is landscape architects who bring that dialog to the table. Local elected leaders and the design professions are natural allies in understanding and solving the myriad of challenges facing our cities today," said MICD Executive Director Trinity Simons.

LAF is honored to recognize this deserving organization and looks forward to the continued impact that it will make in partnership with landscape architects.


2021 Awards Committee

The LAF Board Emeritus Council manages the nomination and selection process for the awards. Members of the 2021 Awards Committee were:

  • Adam Greenspan, PWP Landscape Architecture, Chair
  • Nate Cormier, RIOS
  • Kathleen Garcia, FASLA City of Del Mar, California (Retired)
  • Kendra Hyson, Prince George's County Planning Department and The Urban Studio
  • Ann Mullins, FASLA, City of Aspen, Colorado
  • Frederick Steiner, FASLA, University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design

LAF is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that provide financial support towards fulfilling our mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment.

Much of what LAF is able to accomplish would not be possible without the thought leadership and financial investment of our major supporters, including ASLA, which provides over $125,000 of in-kind support annually.