Campus News Faculty Spotlight

Lecturer’s work focuses on people, place, technology

Jessica Fernandez's research focuses on campus planning and community building, as well as the application of emerging technologies and contemporary design communications in landscape architecture. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Jessica Fernandez keeps up with rapidly changing landscape design skills

Jessica Fernandez is in her second year at UGA as lecturer of design communication and visual literacy in the College of Environment and Design and will be an assistant professor in the fall. If you can catch her as she leads students out of the studios and lecture halls and into the living landscapes of the UGA campus, you’ll meet an enthusiastic, highly energized designer who takes delight in her surroundings and the challenges that await her and her students.

A crumbling retaining wall? No problem. A parking deck blocking a view of downtown? Not an issue.

Fernandez’s research focuses on campus planning and community building, as well as the application of emerging technologies and contemporary design communications in landscape architecture. She is a licensed landscape architect, campus planner and LEED Accredited Professional in Neighborhood Development.

Fernandez practiced professionally for more than a decade on a variety of award-winning projects nationwide before coming to UGA. Thus far she’s taught ecology, construction documentation, portfolio, design communication and advanced graphics courses as well as an online senior project and graduate capstone studio.

Environmental design, like many disciplines, is rapidly changing thanks to modern technologies and more access to large quantities of information. Fernandez’s teaching and research both focus on the intersection of people, place and technology, and she encourages students to explore emerging methods in the analysis, planning and design of the built environment: “I want my students to have the confidence and skills that will shape our industry when they go out into the world,” she said.

Fernandez identifies three goals for the next academic year: She wants to take advantage of cross-collaborative opportunities at UGA; incorporate technologies such as VR, AR and big data into the design process; and show students how these tools are being utilized beyond the boundaries of conventional environmental design.

Her favorite built landscapes focus on urban and campus environments: “I am drawn to contemporary urban spaces that facilitate the innate connection between people and nature. A few favorites are Mikyoung Kim’s Levinson Plaza in Boston and GGN’s Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago. These places bring a natural wildness into the city that I find refreshing and unexpected. I’m also a fan of Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Bailey Plaza, which infuses basic materials with a modern design approach for a sustainable and attractive landscape.”

One of the challenges of conventional environmental design, according to Fernandez, is its continued reliance on two-dimensional expression—plan, section and elevation views on paper—yet the result is a built space experienced in three dimensions. She notes that modern technology opens the door for people to design and communicate their ideas in ways that are closer to the multi-layered world people actually inhabit.

She enjoys teaching at UGA for many reasons, explaining that “the students generally bring a positive energy to the classroom. They are eager to learn and they understand the importance of gaining knowledge to confront the many challenges and opportunities of the modern world. Their enthusiasm is inspiring to me; it’s why I look forward to class every day.”

Fernandez holds a Ph.D. in planning, design and the built environment from Clemson University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate studios in advanced community, basic and fundamental design. She also taught courses in sustainable construction and computer-aided design. Fernandez received her Master of Landscape Architecture and Bachelor of Science in environmental design degrees from Auburn University. She has a deep appreciation for the intersection of art and science, which she said fuels every aspect of her work.