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American University Arboretum + Gardens: The First Ten Years

The Challenge:
In 2014, AU reached the 10-year anniversary of the campus’s dedication as the American University Arboretum and Gardens. Encompassing the entire 84-acre campus, this designation grew out of a decades-long strategy to beautify the campus and make it a welcoming place for students, faculty, staff, and community. A desire to mark this anniversary and celebrate the arboretum’s success was the impetus for the book American University Arboretum + Gardens: The First Ten Years.

The book’s primary audience is donors and alumni who have supported the arboretum’s growth. The book served as an acknowledgement of their support (it was distributed as a thank you gift) and an incentive for continued giving. For contributing alumni, the book is a memento of their time on campus. For the landscape architects, administrators, and other staff, the book showcases their work and validates a long-term strategy.

The Solution:
The idea to create a commemorative book began as just that—an idea. From there, University Publications staff dedicated significant effort and creativity to make this idea concrete. The project called for them to develop a vision, find and draw the story from first-hand sources, identify salient content, determine an appropriate structure and approach, gather a body of photos, and create a stunning design.

In addition to celebrating the 10-year milestone, we wanted to achieve several additional objectives:

  • Demonstrate AU’s commitment to environmental stewardship and model of sustainability. Green roofs, rain gardens, and native plantings are visible reminders that AU is a leader in sustainably managing an urban landscape. The stories and photography in the book illustrate this aspect of AU’s philosophy.
  • Present the AU campus as an extension of its educational mission and a resource for learning. In choosing photographs, an effort was made to show people interacting with the environment and actively using the campus as a backdrop for studying, learning, working, relaxing, and visiting.
  • Showcase AU’s strategic goal of campus beautification and campus identity. In the 1980s, AU envisioned a long-term, multidimensional development plan to enhance the campus and create a suburban-like destination in the city. In 1997, the administration made campus beautification a goal of the strategic plan. The book tells the inside story behind the campus transformation.
  • Show AU’s role as a good neighbor and commitment to community relations. AU’s campus is a public space, intended to be enjoyed by neighbors, visitors, and members of the university community. The book illustrates how boundaries between campus and community have been softened through intentional garden design, effectively blurring the “town-gown” divide that typifies relations between many universities and their communities.

Completed in November 2013, American University Arboretum + Gardens: The First Ten Years fulfilled the expectations of a wide range of university constituents. The book reflects the top-notch work of University Publications staff (a writer, editor, and photographer completed the book in-house, with the help of an alumna designer). The evocative text documents the evolution of the landscape from the university’s founding to the present day, while capturing the philosophy and perspectives of landscape architects, administrators, and others whose vision and hard work transformed the campus into an arboretum. Striking photography captures the beauty and diversity of the campus throughout the seasons.

“Everything about it is wonderful…It’s beautiful and it’s perfect.” – Ann Kerwin, AU alumna and wife of AU president Neil Kerwin

“Thank you for your work and words…They were so beautifully written.” – H. Paul Davis, landscape architect

“It is a treasure.” – Jessica Lubell, arboretum specialist