Iris explores relationships between people and landscapes

Iris Fong developed a longing for green space while growing up in Hong Kong. Her passion for nature and geography led her through the Bachelor of Environments to the Master of Landscape Architecture. We caught up with Iris, now in her final year, to hear about her studies so far.

Iris Fong pictured at Melbourne School of Design

Why did you choose your course?  

I had made up my mind on landscape architecture before university, due to my love of nature and geography. I have a longing for nature as I grew up in compact Hong Kong where urban greenery can be a luxury. This paved the way for my intense love of geography during high school. However, I realised through geography I only learned about the root cause of the problems that trouble our living environment, without coming up with any solid solutions or ways to improve the situation.

What has been your favourite subject?

Definitely the horticulture subject(s). Designing with Plants was my first horticulture subject. It opened a whole new planting world for me and allowed me to see plants differently. Now I can recognise some of the plants and am able to tell why they are special. In the graduate course, I would nominate Advanced Planting Design as my favourite subject, as I had the chance to be taught by plant guru Paul Thompson!

What attracted you to studying at MSD?

I’ve been studying at the University of Melbourne since my undergraduate years, so I was already familiar with Melbourne School of Design. The people here are all very nice and inspiring, and I really wanted to learn more from them. And the subjects are really exciting! Like the travelling studios, where you can travel overseas for one or two weeks and produce a design for the site you visit. I’m looking forward to an intensive subject in the Galapagos this winter.

What are the most valuable skills you’ve learned?

Among all skills I will nominate two: critical thinking and presentation skills. I lacked both before I came here. Critical thinking is essential for a designer as he or she needs to be able to view projects from different perspectives and understand how other people see them. There is no perfect solution in the world and designers cannot cater to every problem, or satisfy everyone’s needs. Designers need to be able to analyse their own projects thoroughly, locating the weakness and improving the design as much as they can.

For presentation, I am very grateful that I’ve had numerous chances to present my ideas. Previously I rarely had the chance to speak to a mass of people and I always felt shy and anxious about it, trying to avoid it at all costs. After four years of practice, I still feel nervous (which is inevitable) but at minimum I can stand in front of people and tell them about my ideas and opinions. It is crucial that I can do this as I’m the only one who truly knows about my own works, and I’m the only one who can explain it to others properly.

Do you have any advice for people thinking of studying at MSD?

Come mentally well prepared! You will meet a lot of extraordinary and talented people from different educational backgrounds, cultures, disciplines. You will be exposed to a super wide range of values and ideas which can give you a mental shock. But it is always good to be learning more.

Have you taken part in any professional work experience or extracurricular activities you’d like to share?  

I started casual work a few months ago, and I’m grateful to have some professional experience and a glimpse of what will happen when I begin my career. I think it is really important for students to gain some work experience in the related industry before they go for full-time position.

I recommend students join a club (like the newly-formed SOLA, Students of Landscape Architecture, and AILA Fresh) to expand their professional network. It is always good to know and talk to more people, so you can expose yourself to a wider spectrum of ideas and mindsets.

What would you like people to know about your discipline?

It’s easy for people to overlook landscape architecture because it is a fairly new discipline. It’s not all about planting and gardens!

Landscape architecture provides room for discussing the relationship between people and (both nature and urban) landscapes, and opportunities to amend the tears in the relationships. This is my passion, to create environments where people can understand and respect the landscapes better. An environment where people can live in harmony with nature.

Landscape architecture does not exist alone, and nor do other disciplines. A better built environment can only be made possible with the united effort of all disciplines.

Thinking about studying at MSD?

Read more about the Master of Landscape Architecture

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