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News > DP Education > Design Education Spotlight | Rosa Mannion

Design Education Spotlight | Rosa Mannion

Rosa Mannion, Principal Landspace Architect at NV5, commits herself to improving the public spaces of Philadelphia, Camden, and the larger surrounding region through her work. She believes in the transformative power of communal areas and sees a great need for a much greater diversity of voices in how these spaces are designed. Fueled by that passion, Rosa volunteered with our Design Education Program this recent semester to increase awareness of the design professions.

Q: The DE team was thrilled to have you on board with us for the Fall 2023 Semester. Can you tell us what motivated you to volunteer with the program? 
A: "There is an enormous need for greater diversity in all the design professions. As a landscape architect and urban designer, I also see a lack of understanding that our cities and public spaces are designed at all. I love seeing comprehension dawn on a young person’s face when they understand that all the parts of the city they know are designed by people, and that these parts are constantly changing. And then explain that they have the agency to design public spaces and the built environment if they want it. They can help to line streets with trees, plan parks, make our rivers cleaner, and make life better for everyone. Neither of my parents attended college, and my network of people as a child did not include anyone resembling a designer or an architect. I did not discover landscape architecture until after college and would have loved the chance to know about any of the design professions as early as elementary school." 
Q: Going into your DE classroom at Bregy School, how did you plan to use your talents as a landscape architect to inform your lesson planning? How did this come to fruition? 
A: "I designed the class in a similar way to how I approach a landscape project: look at the site broadly, understand the surrounding context, and then gradually zoom in on a potential solution. I thought of the arc of the class beginning with a broad look at park design, design in cities, and showing that people are determining, selecting, and designing everything - nothing in the city is ‘just there’. This introduction contained ‘aha’ moments for some students, which was amazing to facilitate. Then the classes become more granular until the end of the sessions, when each group had a small model of a park they designed together, after discussions, arguments, and a consideration of surrounding land uses. There’s a feeling of “circling” around design and potential solutions like a bird high up in the sky and making the circles smaller and smaller, and closer to the ground until you’ve landed on a good, appropriate design."
Q: You recently redesigned the Bregy Schoolyard to make it more community-friendly through your firm, NV5. In Philadelphia, the students' playgrounds are often just asphalt. How did your team along with Trust for Public Land (TPL) work to redesign this space? 
A: "TPL begins their schoolyard projects with a participatory design phase in which the tools of design are given to a class of students. TPL worked with a Bregy class to come up with a vision for their large asphalt schoolyard. When NV5 was awarded the project to bring the vision through final design and construction, we fully respected the students’ design while adapting it to site realities and working it into a cohesive, sustainable, and constructible design. Our landscape architects and civil engineers worked together to design a large rain garden, many tree plantings, a new playground, outdoor classroom, multipurpose turf field, stage, a track, raised garden beds, and community areas. The project resulted in the largest stormwater grant received by TPL’s Philadelphia schoolyards program to date, and was joyously celebrated when it opened in the fall of 2023. To see a lifeless expanse of asphalt transformed into something living and dynamic that truly improves the city is such a reward. Seeing the students from my ADE class running free, laughing and playing was an incredible feeling. I know some of them will remember us and our lessons. I’ll certainly remember all of them."

Q: You have spent time at Bregy School between DE and the Schoolyard project. How do you feel those two projects complement each other? What positive results have you seen in response to these school initiatives to incorporate design into the school day? 
A: "It was such a great opportunity to show the ADE students the power of design. They saw their massive asphalt schoolyard transform before their eyes into a green space for play and learning. I showed them the diagrams from TPL’s participatory design phase and then showed them the series of sketches, drawings, and iterations that occur during a design process. They saw construction drawings and understood how the new schoolyard gradually took shape and all the decisions that a designer made along the way. They could see and sense without much explanation at all that an urban space no one cared about could become a space that gives joy and has great value for a community."

Q: Through your work, it seems that empowering students to be more creative and embrace design education is at the center of your focus. Why is that so important to you? 
A: "Design in the public realm should be a very collaborative undertaking because there are so many varying pressures on our limited public space. People don’t necessarily realize the agency they have in helping to determine how our cities and our environments are designed and managed. The greater the diversity of voices contributing to design, the better off we’ll all be in the end." 

Interested in volunteering with DesignPhiladelphia's Design Education program?  Please reach out to Michael Spain (, Liza Niles (, or Carly Clifford ( for more information.

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